With news that designer Kate Spade and beloved chef Anthony Bourdain both committed suicide last week, it’s clear that the state of America’s mental health is slowly crumbling. And a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proves as much.
Researchers found that suicide rates increased by 25 percent across the United States in nearly twenty years ending in 2016. But that’s not the worst of it: Twenty-five states—including Indiana, South Carolina and Minnesota—saw a rise in suicides by more than 30 percent, some as high as 40.
That, and in 2016 alone, about 45,000 lives were lost to suicide.
Now, I can hear some of you now: “What does this have to do with Black women?”
My answer? A whole heck of a lot.
I know that for generations we’ve been fed the dangerous lie that mental illness, depression and suicide are just white people problems. That, and they’re a sign of spiritual weakness that we can just pray away. But be clear: Black women and girls do and can kill themselves regardless of how strong we may seem or are expected to be.
Just ask the loved ones of former Playboy Playmate Stephanie Adams who jumped to her and her son’s death in May. Or New York’s Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, whose body was found in the Hudson River last year and ruled a suicide. Or Cherelle Jovanna Locklear, who hanged herself in 2016, because her college failed to investigate her alleged rape.
Then there’s Miss Jessie’s Titi Branch, #DarkSkinRedLipProject founder Karyn Washington, writer Erica Kennedy and X-Factor singer Simone Battle. Let’s also not forget about women such as singer Michelle Williams, R&B artist Kehlani, Broadway legend Audra McDonald, Oscar-winner Halle Berry and even Oprah Winfrey, who all survived their past suicide attempts.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Think of all the other women we don’t read about.
Granted, studies show that we are less likely to kill ourselves that other folks, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune from this public health issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the fifth leading cause of death for Black girls ages 10-14 and women 25-24 but the third leading cause for teens ages 15-19. In addition and that a 2012 study found that Black women have a higher incidence of having suicidal thoughts due to poverty and the racial and gender bias we experience.
Given the lack of data centered on us, these rates could be higher. This is why we need researchers to care about our lives and understand what we already know: That being a Black woman in America, especially in 2018, ain’t easy.
I can speak to that firsthand.
From white supremacy to state violence to #MuteKelly, every time I turn on the television, hop on Twitter or read an article, it’s clear that the world doesn’t value the lives and bodies of Black women and girls. Not to mention, on a daily basis, I have to confront my own past trauma, feelings of failure and imposter syndrome and the loneliness I often feel because I don’t have a husband or a family of my own.
Am I a “strong” person? Definitely. But I would be lying if I said “this baggage” doesn’t weigh heavily on my soul. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t riddled with anxiety about the uncertainty of my future and career. I would also be lying if I said I’ve never thought about suicide or suffered from depression in my 39 years.
But I also know that I am not alone. Life is hard, but not all has to be lost.
First, we need to reject the notion of having to be the “indestructible Superwomen” that ignore our own pain in order to take care of everyone else in our lives. We have to be tenacious enough to carve out safe spaces where it’s OK for us to be vulnerable, cry and admit we have issues we need to work out. Most importantly, we can no longer suffer in silence, living in fear that if we ask for professional help or admit to having suicidal thoughts we will be met with stigma and shame. We have to stop wearing this mask and speak our truth because our lives depend on it.
So yes sistas, we are so strong and resilient, but we’re also human. Please, don’t ever forget that.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to everyone. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. All calls are confidential.