In December 2012, after fatally shooting the mother of his three-month-old daughter, NFL Player Jovan Belcher took his last drive to the Kansas City Chiefs’ facility. In front of his head coach, the 25-year-old promising athlete put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
In August 2013, the bright, 29-year-old actor Lee Thompson Young didn’t come into work for his role in a hit drama series. He was found dead in his home, police confirmed, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In April 2014, the vivacious, 22-year-old founder of the empowerment blog, For Brown Girls, Karyn Washington took her own life. While details of how she ended her life are still unknown, her tragic ending connects with the deaths of Belcher and Young: All took their lives before they had a chance to reach the age of thirty.
And they are not alone.
The National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide finds that suicide is the third leading cause of death among Blacks ages 15-24 and has the most impact on those ages 25-34. Although Black suicide rates are lower than the overall U.S. rates, suicide affects Black youth at a much higher rate than older Black adults.
The organization also found that 59.7% of Black adults have had suicidal thoughts during their lifetime. While talking about suicide and mental illness is still taboo, the impact on our community is as real as ever.
To Kelli H. Davis, a licensed professional counselor, mental health services provider, and the director of Grief Trauma Resolution at Lakeside Behavioral Health Hospital, the answer lies in providing young people with access to coping mechanisms after trauma (like physical abuse, sexual abuse, death of a loved one, bullying, rejection, divorce of parents, abandonment, and neglect by parents). Davis says she sees how the lack of post-tragedy resolution tools affect patients in her private practice on a daily basis.
“These traumatic events often cause children and young adults to take on negative beliefs about themselves,” says Davis. “After one has suffered and survived these events, they often develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with little to no emotional support from loved ones. We’re told that we will ‘get over it’ or ‘grow out of it’.
“Clinically I believe traumatic experiences are often the issues that drive problems such as suicidality and depression. The trauma has to be addressed in order to eradicate the negative belief, which will lessen the feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and horror.”
Community leader, LaToyia Jones is also working hard to bring this struggle to light. As the Founder of suicide prevention organization Alive On Purpose, Jones has seen first hand how this issue can be a detriment to our communities when swept under an already dirty rug.
“In order to resolve this we must show the reality that feelings of inadequacy, low-esteem, and lack of fulfillment in addition to mental health disorders are main contributors of suicide cases,” Jones offers.
“Most people [who] attempt suicide do not want death -they see it as a way to make the pain and suffering stop,” shares Davis.
As we move beyond May’s Mental Health Month, we must work to end the stigma of mental illness in our community and consistently examine options and outlets that encourage healing, healthy ways to cope with life’s problems, and empower those who feel left behind. Our children’s lives are at stake.