How do we spread the important message of suicide in the black community when homicides are often disguised as suicide?

African Americans are disproportionately faced with traumatic social experiences that lead to mental illness. One African American dies by suicide every 4.5 hours. An unknown number of those deaths will be homicides disguised as suicide. It seems every time we turn on our television black bodies are being slain. The amount of death and the way in which we are dying becomes overwhelming and emotionally debilitating.

The Center for disease control (CDC) list suicide as the 3rd leading cause of death for black males aged 15-24. We are killing ourselves. it is not just a white problem. It is a black problem too. I watched our community try to sweep suicide under a rug with Jet Jackson, Don Cornelius, the neighborhood boy we all know who had took his own life and countless others.

Not too long ago I was found in the middle of a conversation about African American suicide. Here I was rattling off all my statistics about suicide being the 3rd leading cause of death for our black youth. A young black male looked me in my face and very boldly stated, “that’s what the white man wants you to believe, they been killing us for years and calling it suicide”. You know them, the Sandra Blands, and the Otis Byrds of the world who were found hanging from a tree said to have hung themselves. I froze thinking of the accuracy behind the amount of slain black bodies labeled as suicide.

So how do we as black mental health professionals, and community members work to educate others on the problems associated with suicide, when we see Sandra Bland situations play out on a daily basis?

After dwelling on the conversation for a day or so I came back to the fact that it all matters. Yes that matters that we are being strung up on trees said to have lynched ourselves. It also matters that many of us are taking our own lives. Imagine what seeing that on a daily basis does to the overall psyche and well being of black people. It does not matter if the numbers are skewed. Realistically it may not be the 3rd leading cause of death. Maybe it’s the 10th or 12th but it still matters. There is room for all of these conversations to happen.

What we don’t need is the issue of suicide to continue to be silenced within our community. Trying to point out other tragedies does not stop the fact that we are still dying. We need to seek treatment. We need more mental health professionals that look like US. Because we matter and black lives matter. Your life matters. If you are feeling suicidal I urge you to get help before it becomes too late. I have committed my life towards serving people of color, working towards destigmatizing mental illness in our community, and fighting towards ending suicide.

-Ashley McGirt, MSW

A Seattle based psychotherapist