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Are You Good Sis? We Need To Discuss Black Women & Suicide

No matter how strong we may seem, Black women and young girls are committing suicide at staggering rates.

As Told To

Editor's Note: This post discusses suicide. If you have experienced suicidal thoughts, this article might be potentially triggering. If you or someone you know is experiencing dark thoughts of hopelessness or feeling suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.

This is Dr. Arabia Mollette's story, edited by Charmin Michelle.

A few weeks back, I read the story of This is Us writer, Jas Waters, who had committed suicide at the age of 39.

I didn't know her personally, but I knew of her accomplishments as a fantastic writer for various television shows and her work on the movie, What Men Want. To help me gain a better understanding of who she was, I decided to visit her Twitter page. For the most part, her tweets were inspiring and thoughtful. Some mentioned her struggles with anxiety. I was enamored with who she was.

But it was this tweet that stood out:

Twitter/@JasFly

Was it a cry for help?

Additionally, R&B singer and Braxton Family Values star, Tamar Braxton, was admitted to a hospital following a suicide attempt at a Los Angeles hotel, which she has since publicly addressed. She was found unconscious inside her room after a possible overdose from unspecified pills and alcohol. Again, the professional in me drove me to her social media accounts, searching for possible signs of depression. One of her posts mentioned not feeling as confident, how affected she was by blogs talking about her hair loss from stress, experiencing ups and downs in her life, and yet bouncing back from it all.

But a post that alerted me most stated, "I just want to know if anyone else besides me needs a vacation...", of course, a popular and common question amongst everyone since the pandemic began. Even still, I couldn't help but wonder, were any of her posts also a cry for help?

Although the mental health toll of the coronavirus pandemic has begun to reveal itself, it's still too early to predict the impact it has had on our mental health—but did the chaos of the pandemic take a toll on her?

These examples are each high-profile cases on the topic of suicide, but I want to know how those of us who are reading this are holding up too.

As an Emergency Physician, not only have I taken care of a variety of patients challenged with chronic depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders, but I too suffered tremendously from depression and anxiety—starting back in my early childhood. I was raised in a poverty-stricken, single-parent household, in a South Bronx housing project in the 80's. My family struggled with drug addiction, poverty, domestic violence, crime and a host of other issues.

At the age of 7, I remember sitting alone in the bedroom I shared with my siblings, staring out of the window, and thinking, "Maybe it would be best if I did not live."

I recall my spirit feeling so heavy and I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I did not understand what I was feeling, nor did I know how to process all of those emotions. I did not tell my mother because she was suffering from mental health issues and was silently crying for help herself. And unfortunately for the first time, when I was 11 years old, I witnessed my mother's attempt to commit suicide.

Today, the state of America's mental health system continues to deteriorate and there is a lack of good mental health services for Black Americans. According to a recent 2018 study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates in 2016 sorely increased to approximately 25 percent in the United States in nearly twenty years. Twenty-five states including Indiana, South Carolina and Minnesota experienced an increase in suicides by more than 30 percent, tallying a total of over 45,000 people who died from committing suicide.

Studies show that adolescents and young adults have the highest rate of suicide of any age group of Black Americans. And even more alarming, suicide was found to be the third-leading cause of death among Black Americans ages 15 to 19 years, fourth among those ages 20 to 29 years, and eighth among those ages 30 to 39 (with 56% of Black teen females that died by suicide, used strangulation or suffocation and 21% used firearms.). Black women have a higher incidence of suicidal thoughts due to poverty and the racial and gender bias that we experience.

Ladies, we are literally considering suicide more than any other race or gender, all due to societal norms; all for simply existing.

And although we're less likely to actually act on committing suicide, the statistics of follow-through, are there—on a higher scale than they should be.

From generation to generation, many of us, including myself, were taught that mental illness is a "white disease". Even today, there are stigmas surrounding mental health issues, and they're looked at as a sign of spiritual weakness. "All we have to do is give it to God and just pray it away."

Those ideologies stem from Black Americans having a huge mistrust of our healthcare system, and that distrust is ultimately being passed down from generation to generation. America historically has a legacy of medical and scientific research mistreatment and abuse to Black people that span over centuries, and additionally, costs and access to culturally competent mental health care professionals are barriers to treatment for marginalized communities.

When I was a teenager, I believed psychotherapy was taboo. I was unaware of the benefits of therapy. For many years, I was often reminded how strong I am, but I was dangerously suffering in silence. I, too, went to church and asked the congregation on numerous occasions to pray for me because I thought the prayers would make all of my problems go away. I believed God could love me again. Don't misunderstand, there's nothing wrong with seeking care through family or church, but it wasn't enough for me. I was in dire need of help; my anxiety heightened, which then pushed my decision to seek out a therapist.

Photo Courtesy of Ruthie Darling

And I haven't looked back since.

When I tell people my story, oftentimes I hear, "Well, you're a doctor, and you're in therapy and made it through. So can I." Which is absolutely true. Both myself, and any mental health care professional's only hope, is for you to know that in sharing our stories, we are creating the ability to build those necessary connections in assisting and making therapy suitable for many. And no matter how strong we may seem, or how diligent we are expected to be from society, Black women and young girls are committing suicide, or have attempted to take their own lives, at staggering rates.

No more. I want us all to emphasize no longer having to suffer alone or in silence.

Let's ask for professional help. Let's dismantle the "strong woman" myth and admit to suffering from depression, anxiety or thinking suicidal thoughts.

We must take care of ourselves, and we must take care of each other so that we do not continue to pour from an empty cup. Let's demand for culturally sensitive therapists and look for ways to carve out safe spaces for us to be vulnerable. Because at the end of the day, no one can tell your story better than you.

So...are you good, sis?

If you or someone you know is experiencing dark thoughts of hopelessness or feeling suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Dr. Arabia is currently an ER Physician at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center. She has been featured on CNN, The New York Times, NBC News, BET and a host of other media outlets where she often discusses her passion for black women's health. To learn more, visit her website.

Feature image courtesy of Ruthie Darling

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