by Rozella White, SP Columnist
On August 19, 2013, actor Lee Thompson Young was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment. His cause of death was ruled a suicide. Lee was a twenty-nine year old black male who seemed to have a bright future ahead of him in Hollywood. Lee died due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A suicide note was not left behind and his family, friends and co-workers were all shocked by his death.
On June 13, 2012, the body of writer Erica Kennedy was found in her Miami Beach, Florida home. Erica was a publicist, fashion and entertainment writer and book author who also happened to be the best friend of Kimora Lee Simmons. Erica was a forty-three year old black woman who was a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. More information surrounding her death was never released but it is believed that Erica committed suicide, most likely because of an ongoing, secret battle with depression. Much like Lee Thompson Young’s death, Erica’s death sent shockwaves through her community of family and friends.
Suicide is rarely spoken about within the black community. One might say that discussing it is taboo. I think it goes a step further than just being taboo. It is a secret shame. Suicide has been judged to be an ultimate act of sin by the church community and many believe that suicide is a direct result of a person’s weakness. These attitudes and beliefs perpetuate the continuation of shame that plagues many that have struggled with suicide or suicidal ideation.
Suicide is defined as the act of intentionally causing one’s own death while suicidal ideation is a medical term for thoughts about or an unusual preoccupation with suicide. I have attempted suicide and suicidal ideation has long been a marker of my depression. My journey of accepting my reality has led others to share with me their own struggles and together, we have begun to tear down that shame surrounding the mental health struggles of black women.
Ntozake Shange, in her seminal play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf, the plight of black women is revealed. In this work, Shange tells the stories of seven women as they traverse their personal life experiences. The stories are shared through a series of poems and this groundbreaking work opened the door for black women in particular to share their stories of trauma and pain that revealed feelings of worthlessness and death.
According to Psych Central, researchers discovered women who have experienced more race and gender-based discrimination have a higher risk of suicidal ideation than women who have experienced less discrimination.
We, as black women who are in professions inherently reserved for our male counterparts, stand at the intersection of race and gender-based discrimination.
We, as black women, are at a higher risk for depression (also known as self-loathing and anger turned inward) than many of our counterparts.
We, as black women, can no longer be ashamed for our very lives depend on it.
By addressing this secret shame, we will help erase stigma in our communities and provide safe spaces for our brothers and sisters to release their secret shame as well.
So, dear shepreaches readers, what say you? Are you one who has experienced suicidal ideation? Are you a survivor of a suicide attempt? Are you one who struggles with mental illness and hides in secret, ashamed of your reality?
I write this piece to let you know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
We might never know what ultimately led Lee and Erica to take their lives. But my hope and deep prayer is that we, by confronting our secrets and dismantling our shame, can prevent another precious life from being lost. I’ll help you if you help me. Together, we can do this.
“Through my tears
I found god in myself
and I loved her fiercely”
If you are someone you know is looking for support, resources or for a community, please check out some of the links below. Remember, the best support is to find a trained and licensed therapist and create a plan for your ongoing wellness.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Band Back Together
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- National Alliance on Mental Health
- Beyond Blue: An Interview with Rev. Dr. Monica A. Coleman
If you’re interested in my personal journey with depression and suicidal ideation, visit my blog, Embracing My Shadow or follow on Twitter @embracemyshadow. Remember, you are not alone.
Rozella White is a columnist for ShePreaches Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @rozellahw.
Photo credit: Affrodite.net.