Debunking the Myths of Black Suicide

The quicker we unlearn and let go of these stigmas, the faster we can go about saving the lives of Black children.

Two years ago, after Anthony Bourdain died, I shared some words on Instagram about what he meant to me as someone who had an innate pull to see the world and its people.

A follower commented and said, “Suicide is never a solution. He should have fought his nemesis.” To say I was infuriated was an understatement.

This person went on to explain to me that many people followed Anthony and that they may be tempted by suicide because of him.

As much as I felt angry by this persons lack of empathy and miseducation, I felt an immense amount of sadness for people who don’t have a community around them that assures them of their safety.

Not their physical safety, but their safety to exist as whoever they are, regardless of their gender, identity and darkest thoughts. A community that lets them know, it is okay.

Mental illness may be a “nemesis,” but it isn’t an adversary that can be defeated solely with affirmations and prayer.

People mistake depression and other mental illnesses as feeling sad all the time when in fact, your most joyous friend or family member with the best career, house, partner, and kids may be feeling absolutely hopeless every single day.

You can’t see it, but they feel it.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents in America and with a significant rise in suicides among Black children and teenagers there has to be a meaningful conversation around the stigmas and myths that prevent these numbers from decreasing.

But what about Black people and children who don’t come from affluent families and are not college enrolled? Do their lives matter?

Suicide is 100% preventable with the appropriate intervention, and it is our duty as the adults in the lives of Black children, whether as parents, aunts, uncles, educators, physicians, and coaches, to do the work of demystifying the myths of suicide and Black people.

Who Commits Suicide?

It is no secret that when it comes to mental health and mental illness, the Black community struggles with the stigmas that are attached to them.

“That’s that white people-ish,” is commonly heard, but from research studies conducted over the last few years about suicide, this is not true. To fight stigmas like this, education is critical.

It is incumbent upon health organizations to grant the necessary funding to Black scientists and researchers who can gain more of an understanding of the reasons for this uptick in suicides and develop specific interventions that can help in reducing these alarming rates.

A critical factor that could contribute to the myth that only white people die by suicide is the majority of news stories that shed light on suicides.

The U.S. media tells a story of suicide affecting one particular group: Young, white, affluent college students who had everything going for them. They were from “good” families and were kind people who everyone loved.

But what about Black people and children who don’t come from affluent families and are not college enrolled? Do their lives matter?

It’s baffling that these doubling of numbers amongst Black children dying by suicide, yet their stories are absent from the national medias consciousness.

Their stories don’t warrant primetime specials and the stories of Black children dying by suicide are not handled with the same level of tenderness and empathy as their white counterparts.

Perceived Superhero Strength: A Double-Edged Sword

Black people in America have been fighting for our lives from the day we were stolen from the continent of our ancestors and stuffed and chained on the floors of ships.

We are a resilient kind, yes, but we are not immune to pain.

Racist tropes like the “strong Black woman” and the forever criminal in Black men with words like ‘overpower’ ‘hulk-like’ and ‘beast’ used to describe them to justify their murders at the hands of police officers, but are doubly used to promote their physical strength.

From a white supremacist media, these are not the type of people who have mental illnesses. As a community, we must learn to lean away from wanting to be considered “strong” all the time because it is doing more harm than good.

We are a resilient kind, yes, but we are not immune to pain.

When we tell little Black boys “don’t cry” and “man up,” we are hardening the armor they’ve already developed as a result of existing withi a racist society.

When we prevent little Black girls from being who they are by not allowing them to express themselves through their natural hair or by putting limits on the way they speak and think, we are essentially telling them they need to conform and to take up less space.

Encouraging vulnerability from both Black boys and girls will aid in them sharing their feelings in safe spaces without fear of judgment and criticism.

Faith and Community

The Black church is at the core of the Black community in America. This is also true in Caribbean households.

The dilemma is not having faith and finding strength in a higher power, the problem is when we receive messages like “pray it away” and “the devil is the cause of this.”

It is a myth that you can “pray away” mental illness. It is 2020, and these false messages must end because they are harming young Black children in need of serious help.

Young children turn to their families and, in this case, church leaders to understand what is acceptable.

If they see that someone in their church has been ostracized because they’ve “gone mad” or “they’re talking crazy,” or because they’ve come out as gay, children are unlikely to share what they’re feeling or who they are because they don’t want to be the outcast or make those they love upset.

As Black people, we take pride in our ability to take care of each other through community. It’s because of this we must ensure that the community we foster is safe for young, Black children of all identities and genders to openly voice their feelings and emotions free of rejection.

Their lives depend on it.

**If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.**

Renée Cherez is a moon-loving, mermaid believing empath seeking truth, justice, and freedom. Feel free to read more of her writing on Medium here. Follow her on Instagram to indulge in her *sometimes* overly long captions on travel, self-discovery, mental health, and social justice.

Renée Cherez is a Black woman writer creating magic at the intersections of travel and Black liberation. Follow me on Instagram + Twitter (@reneecherez).

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