She turned on the TV and saw her son on the news. The reporter exclaimed that a young man jumped in front of a train. Praying it was an accident and in recovery, the horrible truth came out that it was death by suicide, where he thrust himself into a Pasadena train. A 24-year-old, African American graduate of Morehouse College killed himself. His behavior and mood changed after his roommate never woke up from his sleep, right before their spring break trip. The fear, the loss, the confusion, the unspoken pain, led to an explosion of feeling trapped, and never seeing him again. The damage, hurt, and loss to his family and friends left the community- speechless. When we don’t talk about our feelings and emotions, silent suffering ensues. RIP Michael Flowers Jr. Say his name.
A study released released this week indicated a significant increase in self reporting suicide attempts for Black teens. African American teens completed the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, and the study was published in the medical journal Pediatrics. The purpose of the study is to determine if racial and ethnic subgroups of adolescents are at high risk for engagement in suicidal behaviors.
198,540 high school students between 9th-12th grades took the survey between 1991 and 2017, but this year there was a significant increase in African American boys and girls reporting concerns of suicide attempts. Compared to the other ethnic groups of white, Asian, and Hispanic, who had relatively similar reporting rates, the Afriacn Americans students reported an alarming 73% increase in thoughts of suicide attempts this year.
You Are Not Exempt From Pain
Now let’s digest this information and consider the driving factors that are contributing to this. Firstly, we must understand the proper notion of the phrase “mental health.” Every living creature has mental health, the same way we have lung health, heart health, liver health, and bone health. Your brain is an organ, just as your heart is an organ, as well.
Within the African American culture there is a stigma that African Americans do not need therapy — they just pray about it or suffer in silence. However, you are not exempt from pain, grief, and stress because you are Black or religious.
However, with it being the central player in how we think, operate, and behave, when our mind is sick the rest of our body becomes sick. 9/10 of diseases come from the mind and stress. The correct approach is How healthy is your mind- your thoughts, feelings, motives and emotions?
This notion also derives from generations of bondage and confine where their thoughts, feelings, and opinions were not given permission to be voiced. However, our silence is killing us through alcohol abuse, drug, abuse, absentee fathers, incarceration, racial discrimination and poverty.
Poverty – a state of lack
There is a strong correlation between poverty and mental distress. Now this does not mean that all African Americans are poor or living in undesirable conditions. However, financial stress contributes to feeling trapped and wanting to escape life. Mental breakdowns can occur when we don’t know where our next meal is coming from, how to pay rent, how to have adequate transportation. For example, today we do not have an African American town, where there are thriving businesses that hire people within the Black diaspora. Where is that place Black boys and girls can receive employment that pays them adequately and basic needs are met for the entire family? When children are pressured to do adult responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, taking care of siblings, doing homework, and becoming another parent, their level of stress and worry heightens. Unfortunately, in single and absent parent households, “adultification” is robbing children of their childhood. Where are the fathers? Where are the mothers? Where are the mirrors to their identity and positive self esteem to combat those dark voices from school, music, social media, and TV?
Poverty also promotes parents spending so much time at work that their children experience emotional and mental neglect at home. The family is the central nucleus for identity, support and safety; when that is interrupted, who is raising the children? The TV? Love and Hip Hop? The biased teachers at your child’s school? The football coach? We know you’re working, but it is damaging when parents are not accessible emotionally, physically, or spiritually. This is particularly true when feelings of guilt are inflicted upon children — when children are told they should be grateful to have “a roof over their head” “food to eat” and “clothes on their back.” These things represent parental responsibilities, not ammunition for children feeling like burdens.
Restoring the black family means restoring Black lives and reducing suicide
The pressure for financial freedom and to “be the one to make it out” is a pressure that other racial groups do not have to deal with as much as the African American community, when children are pressured to save their parents and siblings. This type of pressure can override stress, foster feelings of failure, restlessness, and contribute to thoughts of suicide.
The overwhelming presence of discrimination, hate, violence homicide, suicide, and bullying are also driving factors towards suicidal thoughts. From comments on social media, hair discrimination for Black women and girls, seeing successful Black people marry others who do not belong to the African American diaspora, many inputs impact the interpersonal value and identity of Black teens. “Why aren’t I good enough? Why can’t I have hair like that? Why is my skin so dark?” Have you or your child ever thought about these things?
These seeds of self hatred grow deep weeds when they go unchecked. When stereotypes, discrimination, and workplace violence occur for African Americans, especially when it impacts their academic and professional lives, it heightens learned helplessness- when someone suffers from powerlessness after traumatic events and persistent failure. This is a dangerous mental space to be in because it shows that, “When I try, I always get knocked down and no one will help me. So I’d rather not try- or live.”
Solutions- Your life matters
Guard your heart. Not everything is meant for us to see. Often times we repost things for awareness, but that awareness just creates anger, frustration, and feelings that go unsettled. Showcasing problems without solutions is completely different.
To the parents who talk harshly, say mean things, cuss their kids out, and showcase broken relationships, please ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing working?” You don’t want your put down to be the trigger that removes your son or daughter from this earth.
To all the business owners and entrepreneurs, please know that what you create can save so many lives. Create Black institutions, hire your own- every other cultural group does and it’s about time we do the same.
Where do Black boys and girls go to heal? Where do you go to clean your organ and get practical tools to combat those negative thoughts, feelings, and stress?
Please understand that sometimes you are the trigger and someone may not want to talk to you. Talking to a professional, someone who has no bias, is key to feeling like you can really let it out.
Try Now- First Steps
You do not have to receive a diagnosis, take medication or use your insurance. Just talk it out and learn positive coping skills. Here are some great resources to look into a listen to:
- Mental Wellness University www.mentalwellnessuniversity.com/find-a-coach
- Therapy For Black Girls www.therapyforblackgirls.com
- Therapy For Black Men www.therapyforblackmen.com
- HE Motions by TD Jakes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjGQ4FX9B54
- “Where Do Black Men Go to Heal?” by Preston Perry IG: @preston_n_perry