Suicide in the Black community can no longer be ignored. That’s the mindset that mental health advocate Jarred Keller wakes up with every day, and it’s what spurs him to share daily messages of encouragement and hope with his growing Instagram base. After years of struggling internally with life-disrupting thoughts, the DC-based digital creator has turned social media into his own form of therapy, shining a bright light on a dark reality.
The truth is, between 2014 and 2019, the rate of suicide within the Black community increased significantly, and the pandemic has exacerbated the issue. While the rate of suicide remains highest among middle-aged white men, a study published last Spring by the JAMA Network found that the suicide rate of Black males ages 15 to 24 years old rose by 47 percent between 2013 and 2019. Black women saw an increase of 59 percent. In that same period, rates decreased in white youth.
“This narrative that Black people don't suffer with depression or thoughts of suicide is antiquated and keeps those struggling with their mental health from getting the help they need,” Keller says. ”It’s time to end that stigma.” In addition to the shame surrounding mental health, Keller says that the cost of therapy has been a barrier to access. He’s working diligently on compiling a list of free services for those in need.
Keller wasn’t always so forthright about his innermost feelings and mental health struggles. “I was embarrassed by a lot of things that have happened over the last several years,” he confesses. But after the suicide of a close friend in 2021, the public relations expert knew it was time to open up. “I realized when he died that he was likely struggling for a while and I never knew. And I was also dealing with my own stuff. I’ve had times when I wouldn't shower or eat for three, four days. I would just lay in bed all day. And I didn't talk to him about it either,” Keller shares. “We were both going through the exact same thing and we just did not talk about it.”
As Keller worked to wrap his mind around that, he began to realize that instead of keeping his thoughts to himself, he would share them with the world. The process has been cathartic for him, but messages from family, friends, and strangers have confirmed that a little transparency can make others feel seen. Though the idea of mental health has become more palatable in recent years, Keller says it is important for him to not throw the term around like a “buzzword” but instead, talk about it from a very personal place.
“I myself have suffered. I suffer from anxiety. I’ve suffered from depression. I've thought about committing suicide. And I want people to get to a place where they feel comfortable talking about it openly,” Keller says.
The 31-year-old's comfortability didn’t come overnight. In fact, when Keller first started posting his videos, he says he would “literally post and put my phone away because I felt that people would talk about me or use it against me—prey on my vulnerabilities.” Soon he realized that he was opening up a forum for others to talk about their own issues. “I’m not a therapist,” he quips, “but I give people a model for transparency.”
Being Black, gay and from the South, Keller admits that he was conditioned to not talk about his feelings. “And my father was a pastor, so that was like a whole other layer.” He was often met with “You just need to talk to Jesus and you'll be fine,” Keller says. “So I think I, like most people, just learned to cope with it, or you learn to live with the fact that you're depressed or anxious, or you don't even really ever come to terms with what's going on.”
The recent deaths of former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst and Ian Alexander Jr., actor and son of Regina King has shed light on the reality of “suffering in silence.” Keller says hearing of these passings reaffirmed his mission to normalize mental health struggles. “I'm not suggesting that being this open is going to stop suicide, but I believe if we’re more open with talking about it, people would be more open to going to therapy or possibly taking medication, and getting the help they need.”