“And this is for colored girls who have considered suicide, but are moving to the ends of their own rainbows.”
– Ntozake Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Imagine what it would be like if every day began to feel gray. You wake up, struggle to get out of bed, maybe you don’t make it some days. You’re not quite sure why you feel so down or if there is any hope of feeling better. You become more and more harsh and critical with yourself and feel worthless. You don’t feel there’s anyone you can call. You get the sense that everyone dislikes you. You know that you used to have the energy to engage in life but you can’t remember what motivated you before. You cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel. You begin closing in on yourself. Ignoring calls and texts from family and friends. Assuming that they don’t really care, that they don’t really want to hear about how you’re doing. You start drinking and smoking more to numb out the difficult feelings. You feel guilty for not enjoying your life. You start having thoughts that you can’t survive in this place of loneliness, isolation, and despair for much longer. You start wishing that you weren’t alive.
The paragraph above was intended to depict some of what people who consider suicide may experience. People often commit suicide because they are overwhelmed by their emotions: pervasive hopelessness, despair, anxiety, anger and pain that leads people to feel that life is no longer liveable. Suicide can be very difficult for the general public to understand. People who have loved ones who have committed suicide may feel a combination of guilt, anger, sadness, and denial in addition to grief. Suicide is commonly brushed over and denied as the cause of death. September was national suicide prevention month, and it is time for us to talk about suicide. As painful, difficult and uncomfortable as it may be, in order to prevent people from dying by suicide, we have to talk about it. We have to let go of the denial that sometimes people get to the point when they no longer want to live. We have to let go of shaming ourselves and others for having thoughts that we want to die. We have to let go of taking the blame when people we love die by suicide.
Overall, Black people commit suicide at lower rates than other racial groups. However, it is important to note that the rates of suicide for Black youth has risen in recent years, and in 2010, suicide was the third leading cause of death for Black male youth (ages 15-24). Even though suicide rates in the Black community are lower, this is not an issue that we can take lightly. Across all groups, men are more likely to die by suicide than women, and women are more likely to attempt suicide than men. The reason for this difference is in part because men tend to use more lethal methods. Overall, Black people are more likely to die by suicide at a younger age than white people (Suicide Prevention Resource Center).
Risk factors for suicide
One common question that arises when someone dies by suicide is what led them to do this. Life can be very challenging for a lot of people and many people who commit suicide may have experienced a recent stressful event that pushed them over the edge. Losing a job or having serious financial issues, going through a divorce and experiencing pervasive and severe bullying or trauma are all things that cause people to consider suicide.
Additionally, we know that people who struggle with mental illness are at a higher risk for suicide. Depression is the most commonly known risk factor for suicide. Anxiety, substance abuse and borderline personality disorder also make people more at risk. Mental illnesses often makes it difficult for people to take perspective on the things that they are experiencing. Particularly, if people are not receiving mental health treatment, they may believe there is no way their life could improve, which can lead people to believe that suicide is their only way to escape. (Check out this site for more suicide risk factors).
For people considering suicide
To those of you who may be considering suicide, know that you are not alone. Know that you are not broken. You may be stuck right now but you are not broken. Even though things seem overwhelming and you worry that your life will not get better, it will get better. Take a moment to reflect on your life thus far and think about a time in the past when things were really hard. Did things get better eventually? Did you grow and learn from that difficult experience? If things got better before, they will get better again. There are many other options besides suicide available to you even if you can’t come up with them on your own. Many people have thoughts about suicide. Just because you have suicidal thoughts does not mean that you need to act on these thoughts. The following are things I recommend you do if you are feeling suicidal.
- Reach out for help – If you are worried about your safety in the very near future, call 911 or walk into an emergency room. If you need someone to talk to immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
- If you are concerned about interacting with police, you can request an ambulance (this comes with ambulance transportation costs). Alternatively, when you call 911, ask for a Crisis Intervention Trained (CIT) officer to be sent to where you are. CIT officers are trained in working with people who experience mental illness and de-escalation.
- Go to therapy – There are professionals who want to support you during this difficult time. Check out this post on Finding & Choosing a Therapist for guidance.
- Let go of your shame – The emotions you are feeling right now are likely a normal reaction to the difficult experiences you’ve had. Your mind is working to get you out of this difficult experience and has proposed suicide as an option. This does not mean that there is something fundamentally wrong with you. Check out this post on healthy ways to respond to difficult emotions.
- Tell someone you trust – People who are considering suicide often feel isolated and talking to someone you trust about how you are feeling can be very helpful and remind you that there are people who love you.
For people who are concerned about a loved one
First, if someone that you were close to died as a result of suicide, know that you are not to blame. If you are concerned about someone being at risk for committing suicide here are some things that you can do as a friend or loved one to support them.
- Check in – Ask how your friend/family member is doing if you are concerned about them. If someone starts posting negative and self-loathing posts or disappears from social media without cause, if you see someone using more drugs and alcohol and withdrawing from social settings, these are signs that you should check in with the person. It may feel awkward to do this, and I encourage you to do it anyway.
- Ask about suicidal thoughts – If you think someone might be thinking about killing themselves, you can ask them directly if they are considering suicide. Asking people if they are thinking about killing themselves or want to die does not make them more likely to act on those thoughts or put ideas into their minds.
- Help them get help – Encourage the person to get help and if you feel comfortable doing so, offer to help the person get connected to a therapist. If someone is threatening to harm themselves immediately and they have access to the method they plan to use, call 911 or get them to the emergency room.
- Be empathic – As you support someone who is experiencing mental health distress and possibly considering suicide, it is essential to be kind, empathic and not shaming.