Dear Black People
I'm sure everyone has heard about the movie Dear White People which was recently turned into a Netflix series. I would really suggest you watch it but this post is not a snarky review. This post is about something completely different though I wish it wasn't. I have to write this to my skin folks, my kin folks, and those who identify as black.
Last night, my facebook lit up with statuses in disbelief that a young woman from home had committed suicide. They ranged from shock, anger, confusion and even included what seems to be the obligatory Rest in Peace post. What perplexed me the most was what seemed to be an epiphany for those who were watching this unfold. It is almost like an internal switch had been flicked on and people realized mental health was a thing. People realized in that moment that mental health was just as important as physical health if not more. All it took was the girl down the road, a black girl, to decide that her life wasn't worth living anymore. A new mother and someone who had their whole life ahead of them decided to end it leaving those behind with more questions than answers.
What followed next was a whole community unpacking luggage that had been sitting in the corner for far too long. People who carefully wrote out their RIP post were blindly criticized as being apart of the problem. One after one, my friends, known and unknown, started telling their truths. People who "looked fine" and "acted normal" let us know that in actuality they had been struggling. Talks of suicide, calls to the help line, self harm, and a darkness that could barely be explained spread across my timeline at an uncomfortable rate. In the same breath, they talked about the lack of support...the stigma...and how the same people who were now saying RIP had been the ones who had kicked others while they were done and had contributed to making life the living hell it currently is.
I wish I could honestly say Kianna would be the last person to take her life but she won't be. If we were speaking statistically, she is just a small drop in an ocean of people who take their lives every year. Even more important is to realize that for some it may be shocking that a black girl would take her life but mental health isn't an issue reserved for others. Information on black folks and mental illness is underreported due to the stigma that surrounds it. This doesn't mean it isn't happening, it just means we aren't talking about it like we should be.
According to this website, black men and women have similar rates of suicidal behavior to whites, including serious thoughts of suicide, making suicide plans, attempting suicide, and needing medical attention for attempted suicide. This means that you have cousins, brothers, sisters, friends, mothers, fathers, and lovers who are struggling in silence.
This isn't just their problem-- it is OUR problem.
Dear black people, mental illness is not a joke. It is not something for the weak and weary and can be brought about by so many different factors. It looks different on each person and because of this, each person responds to it differently. We can't continue you to act like it doesn't happen and then be suprised when someone decides this world isn't for them. We can't see someone struggling and tell them to get over it or pray about it. As much as I love a good prayer, it doesn't fix this type of pain. This is the type of pain that needs the attention of a trained mental health professional.
What can you do? Be a friend and be a voice for those who aren't ready to share the story. Once I realized I was depressed, it seemed like I was going through it alone so I mainly kept it to myself. Even though my accident brought it on, it seemed like any little thing could be a trigger. It took me years to openly talk about it or really seek help because black folks don't have mental issues and go through these type of things or so I thought. Once I decided to speak up I realized that I wasn't the only one as people started to share their own invisible struggles. These are the small victories that we need in order to break down the walls so people know it's not just their problem.
Dear black people, you don't have to hurt alone. You don't have to go through these battles on your own because slowly but surely...we are waking up. We are finding our space in the conversation about mental health and we are claiming our seat at the table. Though our talking about it won't solve the issue right away, it surely will begin to remove the idea that it isn't even an option.