There is an epidemic within the black community that is increasing in intensity and taking the minds of our youth. Suicidal ideation and death by suicide are two terms currently plaguing the black community. In honor of National Suicide Prevention month, this article highlights ways in which you can prevent suicide in your own community.
Researchers have identified an increase in black adolescent suicide. In fact, Jeffrey Bridge and colleagues have found that children 5–12 years old are dying by suicide at a much faster rate than white children in a 2018 study published in Jama Pediatrics Journal. Despite what we know about suicide and the tons of research that has been done to study it, we still have no clue how to stop it. We know without a doubt that our children are dying before really living their lives. We know we must do something fast.
The old saying goes, “ It takes a village to raise a child,” and it is my belief that it will take a village to save one. Mental illness stigma within the black community has prevented this issue from being addressed in a manner that would lead to immediate action and lowered rates of suicide. It will take parents and leaders within the black community to break this stigma and make talking about mental health and mental wellness popular.
I know what you are thinking: What can I do? This issue may be rooted in emotions and various beliefs about suicide. But one thing is for sure, despite your beliefs, you can play a role in saving a child.
Here are seven things you can do:
1. Volunteer With Children In Your Local Community
Ideas of hopelessness and worthlessness are etched in the minds and hearts of our children. We can combat these ideas by interacting with children. We can be role models. We can deliver hope and give children a sense of purpose. They have to see themselves in us. Most urban communities lack programming for children after school. In fact, volunteers and mentors are limited. It is important for community members to step up in volunteering and developing targeted programs for youth. You can be that person.
2. Identify Community Resources
Get to know what is happening in your community. Identify counselors, community agencies and programs that focus on mental wellness. Identify those agencies that specifically address suicidal ideation and support youth mental wellness. These resources are so important in spreading awareness.
Technology can help, too. There are many mobile applications that can help to identify suicidal ideation, community resources and provide prevention measures. In fact, there are websites and hotlines available, as well. You can lend this information to anyone in need. Once you are aware, you can make others aware.
3. Ask A Child If They Are OK
If you see a child with signs of distress, shame or depression, engage them. Signs could include lack of eye contact, looking down or away, withdrawn from a group, soft speech, lack of interest or crying. Ask them if they are OK. Engage them in conversation. Ask if you can help them. Try to put a plan in place that would allow someone to follow up with the child. Don’t leave them to their thoughts. Lend your support.
4. Look, Listen And Take Action
Pay close attention to interactions among children. Look for signs of bullying and address it immediately. Listen to conversations and address inappropriate ones. Don’t let any inappropriate or hurtful action go unaddressed. Addressing these issues tells the child being offended that someone cares. It gives them an advocate and lends hope. The worse thing you could do is minimize their feelings. Instead, acknowledge their feelings.
5. Address Every Cry For Help
Take every cry for help as important. Often we dismiss real cries for help as a cry for attention. Are you willing to risk losing a life because you judged a person’s cry for help? Take action when you hear children saying things that sound like they feel trapped, hopeless and helpless. These, coupled with stark behavior changes, are indicators or red flags. Immediately acknowledge the person’s feelings. Offer help and give immediate words of encouragement. Then take action and provide them with other resources.
6. Dialogue In Your Home
In your own home you can begin by having very open dialogue about suicide. Explore feelings and emotions that lead to suicide with your children. Offer a listening ear and tell them they are valued within the family. Also, let them know if they would ever prefer to speak with someone outside of the family, you would arrange it. It is time to get comfortable talking about suicide, mental health and emotions.
7. Shaping Your Community
Parents are mourning the loss of their children and families are struggling in silence. Parents are afraid to speak about their children’s suicidal thoughts or self-harming incidents. They fear judgement and further victimization within their own communities. We are more comfortable speaking about mental health when we are talking about people other than ourselves. I am here to tell you that suicide is our issue. It has no color, no gender, no age. It is impacting all of us. If we are going to decrease the number of adolescents dying by suicide, we are going to need to have open discussions within our community. Consider advocating for public forums to discuss suicide within your community. Public forums is one way to capture diverse voices and opinions.
The media has exposed us to the many very public deaths of famous people like Kate Spade, and yet, our black children's names are being overlooked within our own communities. It is time for the black community to take a stand and address the suicide issues that are taking our youth. Take the ideas discussed and be the first to take a public stand to address suicide and self-injury in your community. We must embrace the notion that black children's lives matter, and take action in our community to prove it.