Let's Be Careful When Discussing Suicide

Yet another news story has broken about a Black woman dying while in custody of the police and not surprisingly, the details of her death are sketchy at best. Sandra Bland, reportedly died by suicide in a Waller County jail cell, following a traffic stop in Texas. The suggestion that Ms. Bland died by suicide seems highly unlikely for a variety of reasons. The first of which is video following the stop where Ms. Bland can be heard asking why the officer had slammed her head down on the ground. Secondly, it has been discovered that as many as 4 deaths that have occurred in the Waller County jail have been ruled a suicide. These facts coupled with the horrible track record that police have with Black women, strongly point to foul play and not suicide.

So while I agree with many others that it is highly unlikely that Ms. Bland died by suicide in that jail cell, some of the online discussion surrounding her suspicious death has been very concerning. As a means of negating the official report offered by the Sheriff’s office, people began to comb through Ms. Bland’s Facebook page to gain more insight into her life. She had recently taken what was described as her dream job, had just visited with family for the holiday, and was a beloved member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. Some members of the online community began offering up smiling pictures of her with family and friends engaging in fun activities and tales of her last days as proof that she would not have taken her own life, and that is the part that was troubling. The idea that someone who is thinking of ending their life by suicide would not have smiling pictures or be excited about a new job only adds to the stigmatizing narrative that people who die by suicide are always sad and depressed, have a particular look, and that it would be easy for us to tell if a loved one was struggling in this way.

How often have we read about high profile suicides by Black women and the immediate thought is “I never would have known she was struggling” and disbelief that a woman with so much seemingly going for her would end her life. Again, I do not know if this was the case with Ms. Bland, but I do believe that the conversations that have followed her death shed light on the ways we continue to struggle with mental health and suicide, particularly as it pertains to Black women. So as we continue to fight for justice to get the truth about what happened to Sandra Bland, let us also take this opportunity to be mindful of the ways we talk about mental health and to gain a greater awareness about suicide.

 

Dr. Joy