September is National Suicide Awareness Month and the goal for this campaign is to share resources and information so that we are more aware of the signs that someone might be suicidal and how we might be able to help. I’ve found that there tends to be a lot of misinformation about suicide so wanted to take this opportunity to dispel some common myths that continue to pervade our culture.
Suicide is not act of selfishness. Many of us have not had significant depressive symptoms or felt the incredible despair that typically accompanies the decision to end one’s life. So, it seems unfathomable that someone would want to end their life. But it’s important to remember that at the point when someone is considering suicide, they often feel like they are a burden on their loved ones and feel like everyone would be better off if they were gone. They often do not see a way through or out of the pain they are experiencing.
Asking if someone is suicidal will not make them suicidal. I can assure you that someone who has not felt suicidal in the past will not become suicidal simply because you ask. Often times, not asking indicates that you can’t handle your friend sharing that level of pain with you. It makes it secretive and like something that should not be shared, which is not what we want to happen with someone who is feeling suicidal. We want them to be open and honest so that we can help them get connected to the help they need.
People don’t attempt suicide for attention. All attempts at hurting one’s self should be taken seriously. Even if someone does not seriously intend to kill them self, an attempt is typically a signal that something larger is at play and that professional help is necessary.
People who are suicidal don’t always look depressed. Sometimes a person who has decided to end their life will actually have a bit of an improved mood in the days before their suicide because they are at peace with their decision. We saw this recently when Chester Bennington‘s widow, Talinda, released a video of him laughing and joking with his family days before he died by suicide. She wanted to help shed light on the fact that depression and suicidality don’t only look one way.
You can talk with someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK
In the US, you can text with a crisis counselor 24/7 by texting the word TRIBE to 741-741
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. Julie Holland, a New York psychiatrist, recently penned an article for The New York Times entitled “Medicating Women’s Feelings“. In it she discusses her feelings about the abundance of psychiatric medicines that appear to be prescribed for women to medicate what are perfectly normal emotions and responses to situations. She describes a situation where one of her clients called her to ask for an increase in the dosage of her antidepressant medication. When the client was asked about her reasons for wanting an increase, she detailed a situation where her boss had openly humiliated her at work which led to her being in tears in the office. Dr. Holland suggested, and I agree, that more medication was not the answer in this case but having a conversation about this event with her boss was likely a much better solution. While reading the article, I found myself agreeing with many of the points made. Similar to Dr. Holland, I believe that there is a tendency in our society to overmedicate and undervalue the importance of paying attention to more organic ways of improving our mental health (i.e. developing healthier coping strategies, learning to be more assertive, setting healthy boundaries, etc). I also agree that women are often unduly penalized for having more emotional expressions and that instead of focusing on how we can squelch these emotions, we should be focused on teaching everyone how to pay attention to emotions and what they may signal about our life and our mental health. However, I also found myself thinking that for many of my clients, 95% of whom are Black women, the concerns presented in this article would never be an issue, because so many of them are reluctant to try psychiatric medications, even when they seem warranted. (more…)
Vanessa and Brian had tried for months to conceive after a miscarriage 2 years ago. They were terribly excited about the upcoming birth of baby Erin and could not wait to hold her in their arms. Vanessa was a planner so for months the nursery had been done. Her bag was in the car. The car seat had been installed, and her mother, who only lived an hour away, was prepared to be with them for at least 6 weeks following the birth. They were all set. Little Erin came into the world on a rainy June morning but no one could pay attention to the weather when her little face brightened up the entire room. After 12 hours of labor, Vanessa was exhausted but in amazement of the miracle her body had performed. The past few years of disappointments and sadness were all a faint memory now. Erin was finally here!
The first week was pretty rough for Vanessa. She was healing from labor, getting very little sleep and having trouble getting Erin to latch. Throughout it all, her husband and mom were great. They would rock little Erin while she took a shower and her mother made sure she ate 3 meals a day. Because she was a planner, Vanessa had read all the books so she knew that in this first week her mood might be all over the place and that she might have trouble adjusting to her new role. What she was not prepared for however was for her mood changes to last for the next 3 weeks and become more severe. She continued to have trouble sleeping and had to start offering Erin formula because the pediatrician was concerned about the weight Erin had lost. Vanessa felt defeated by this as she had planned to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months. Additionally, Vanessa felt weird around Erin. In her mind she knew what she should be feeling towards her beautiful baby but for some reason she just didn’t feel connected. Vanessa found herself crying everyday in the shower, was not interested in eating very much even though her mom was still there doing all the cooking, and she did not want to hold Erin and preferred that Brian or her mom be the one to try and rock her to sleep.
Vanessa was confused and upset at the feelings she was having. She and Brian had hoped and dreamed of this time with Erin and now that it was here, she didn’t feel like she was showing up.