According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), each year thousands of people die by suicide and millions consider suicide. Rates of suicide are consistently higher among Native American, Alaskan Natives, and Non-Hispanic White individuals. Although there has been a decrease in suicide deaths between 2018-2019 amongst these groups, there has been a thirty percent increase in the rate of suicide within the Black or African American community. In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans ages 15-24.
As we reflect on these startling statistics, we should also begin to ponder on how we can work collectively to address this problem. Within the African American community, these conversations are not illuminated as often as they should be. Wearing a mask to show no weakness, emotions, or need for help in the area of mental health has become the norm. These standards are expected of men and women in the African American community, but oftentimes men lack the community support to address mental health challenges. Suicidal death among African American men was four times greater compared to African American women in 2018. This is not ok and preventable if we shed the misconceptions surrounding mental health challenges.
Here are a few ways to work towards saving our communities:
• Explore your individual thoughts about suicide and check your bias. When you think of suicide, what are three words that immediately come to mind? Write those down and expound upon them. If these words do not evoke feelings of compassion, empathy, or any other emotions you typically feel regarding death or illness, take a moment to explore why not.
• Be a safe space that is free of judgment if someone trusts you enough to vent to you about stressors in their life. Not every conversation warrants an opinion about how wrong the person is handling life. Stay away from cliche remarks that minimize the person’s struggles. When someone is in crisis, hearing something such as “It could be worse” is not helpful. Instead, try phrases such as “How can I be there for you during this time?” “I wish you were not going through this right now” or “I hear/see you. You are not alone.”
If someone tells you that they are having thoughts of suicide, seek help immediately. Call or text 988. Never take these statements lightly. Additionally, if you notice a person is experiencing behavioral changes, isolation from family/ friends, changes in mood, giving away important belongings, speaking of themselves as if they planning to die, discussions of hopelessness or unbearable emotional pain do not be afraid to ask if they are having thoughts of suicide. This could save a life. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. The information provided is for educational purposes only, and does not substitute for professional medical advice.