Suicide In The Communities Of Color: Not Just A Pigment of Your Imagination
There are days when you wake up, and it appears to be a blessing. There are also the other days when it may feel as if it would have been better to not wake up at all. Many consider suicide at some point, of disappearing, and escaping the pain that we may be experiencing day to day. This is territory actively explored by persons with mental illness, be it depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. However, just as how communities of colour often avoid acknowledging these mental health issues, suicide falls under the umbrella of things we know exist but would rather not talk about.
Now let’s clarify a few things. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines suicide as the act or an instance of taking one’s life voluntarily and intentionally. Suicide ideation is defined as thinking about or planning suicide. These definitions make the action appear much more impersonal than it really is. If you sit and think about it, a person has reached such a dark place, that the only possible solution they can see clearly is to end their own life, something you cannot take back. Instead of addressing it, we would rather ignore it and pretend as if it is not a problem that affects us.
Such feelings can scare and confuse us, but we must have a better understanding of it to deal with it.
Suicide & Its Triggers
The most common triggers for suicide are typically high stress situations, which as women of colour, can seem like the essence of our very existence. Based on gender, there is excessive sexism, creating a gap between us and our male counterparts. This could be financially, or in the treatment that we receive in the workplace, on public transportation, or even when we go out for a night of fun. We encounter belittling everywhere, almost as if we cannot exist in peace, without harassment, assault, or rape, because we are female. Our skin colour compounds this, as in our global society, women of a fairer complexion tend to receive greater praise. We see it on the television, on social media, in the workplace and even in romantic interactions. Have you ever heard “You are pretty – for a black girl”? The answer is more than likely yes. Additional triggers can be pregnancy or childbirth, losing a loved one to suicide, or abuse.
Being placed in such triggering situations may result in:
- Extensive mood swings,
- Feelings of doubt in one’s identity
- A lack of self-worth
- Feelings of being useless, unwanted or unneeded.
- A need to isolate self.
These feelings are more predominant when we try to communicate to someone what we are suffering from and only receive negative responses. We may hear things like “You must be stronger”, or “It will eventually pass”. The point is not to be brushed aside but a cry out for help, from someone, anyone. Living like this can be difficult, results in high levels of stress and various psychological issues, and requires substantial emotional work to cope. Furthermore, it can push victims to a place where life seems pointless, their pain will only continue, and it seems as if there is no aid available.
Suicide As A Taboo
The barrier that hinders effective communication is usually the stigma around suicide. This includes, but is not limited to:
- It is related to mental illness, therefore if you are suicidal, you have some disorder, and you are crazy.
- You are weak and a coward for choosing this as the solution than “facing” the problem head-on.
- From a religious point of view, our lives are precious gifts from God or whichever deity you worship. It is ungrateful and a sin for you to even consider rejecting such a present.
- Talking about suicide will result in someone trying to kill themselves.
As a result of this, we prefer to hide the fact that a family member or friend has attempted or died from suicide. Based on this, those suffering become more preoccupied with their fears of being judged, concerned that they will not be understood or worried that they will upset you. This causes them to hide their feelings or eventually carry out the act for some semblance of peace.
How To Help And What To Say To Someone That’s Suicidal?
If we want to provide support to individuals struggling, we must change as a community. The stigma surrounding suicide must end so that individuals are more comfortable in having the conversation, beginning the path to recovery. In this way, they do not feel scared or insecure.
Firstly, when approached by an individual considering suicide, the most important thing to do is to listen. The purpose of them coming forward is to find someone willing to just hear what they have to say, getting it off their chest, without judgement. In all honesty, this can be one of the most difficult tasks, especially because some issues are heavy to handle. If you cannot manage, then you need to guide them to someone who can.
Use the right words. The way we communicate with others is very important. Often words such as “committed suicide” or “failed or successful suicide attempt” are utilized, which may make the space to speak about it feel unsafe. Committed is used when saying for example “committed a sin” or “committed a crime”. It can carry a substantial moral connotation and appear as judgement.
Similarly, do we really want to say that someone made a failed or successful attempt to kill themselves? That also makes things a bit impersonal for persons who are struggling with suicidal ideation. To add, it can appear as if we are guilting the person out of suicide, rather than providing direct help, with the use of statements like “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. Altogether our words can act as a means of further isolation for the persons struggling which we do not want.
Know the warning signs. The visible signals are aggressive or reckless behaviour, withdrawal from friends and family, commenting, writing or thinking about death, as well as an obvious mood shifting from great despair to sudden calm. This allows us to be able to pick up on when someone may be in danger and then reach out. When doing so, be as direct as possible, making both parties realize that they are on the same page. Avoid euphemisms or beating around the bush, so a real conversation can begin.
After reaching out, the best treatment for the person considering suicide is required. Unfortunately, for non-white communities, there is limited access to resources, with only two percent of psychiatrists being from communities of color, causing them to lack adaptability or the capability to comprehend the presented issues. Cost is also a major problem. Despite this, there are counselors available and spaces that use music, dance, or mentoring as a means of therapy. You must find what works for you and dedicate yourself to it because that is the only way to find purpose in life again. Of course, the first step is to contact a healthcare professional or service to determine what your loved one needs at the moment, depending on the severity of their ideation.
What I found most interesting was the Bridge of Life in South Korea. It is a popular place for persons to attempt suicide, jumping into the Han River below. To curb the statistic, the bridge was transformed into an interactive space with a human touch. It includes sensors that light up based on a person’s movements. The messages displayed on the rails are not warnings or teachings, but kind words or even jokes to put the mind at ease, keeping the person walking until they reach the end of the bridge, hopefully not going through with the attempt. There are also phone lines that directly connect to a counselor waiting to listen. Maybe we could take a leaf out of their book to create a free and open area to relieve the mind and see persons live to see another day.
If you are considering harming yourself or attempting suicide, please reach out to someone who will be able to help you right away. Some options are:
- Your close friend or family member
- Your primary care doctor
- Your local emergency services
- Heading to the nearest emergency room
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