It’s National Suicide Prevention Week, yet there seems to be a stifling silence dwelling within the black community. We aren’t talking about Kalief Browder.  About MarShawn McCarrel. About ourselves and our near-death battles we absolutely fight but almost never talk about.

In an effort to try and defy my suspicion that we yet again had fallen silent around this topic, I started searching “suicide” across popular black media outlets and publications. To no avail, I instead found recaps of street style at Made in America, Yeezy, Yeezy, Yeezy, think-pieces on Lena Dunham wildin’ and election antics. The closest thing I could find was Ebony’s interview with Darryl McDaniels this past August, which is apparently Black Mental Health Awareness Month.

But what about September 5-11, 2016—National Suicide Prevention Week? What about the thousands of black Americans nationwide struggling daily with mental health issues? Why aren’t we talking about this?

I threw myself into a deep rabbit hole, rereading The New Yorker’s coverage of Kalief’s life behind bars at Rikers Island. It changed him, permanently. I learned Kalief attempted suicide roughly five times while at Rikers. After 10 months in prison, he tried to hang himself with his bedsheets. I read the sickening words of prison guards egging him on—“Go ahead and jump. You want to commit suicide, so go ahead." Less than two years after he was finally released, Kalief hanged himself for the last time.

I listened to his Bronx accent through my headphones. In the time that he’d been home, he’d earned his GED and a 3.5 GPA at Bronx Community College, yet I still heard the frustration, the pain, the anger in his voice. It made me wonder what MarShawn sounded like. What the cadence of his voice was when he wasn’t commanding the attention of hundreds of student protestors. There hasn’t been an article written about MarShawn since February. February, where narratives of black trauma fit painfully yet conveniently within Black History Month.

What deeply saddens and alarms me perhaps the most about all of this is that far too often, it is our silence that claims us. I am left to wonder that if at some point, Kalief and MarShawn stopped believing that their black lives mattered.

In middle school, I struggled with depression and considered suicide. I remember sitting in my mother’s bed, looking at my wrists, wondering if anybody would miss me if I were gone. The thought of disappearing made my heart race, perhaps a combination of anxiety and anticipated relief. An escape from the pain of my reality.

I hadn’t been talking about how my parent’s divorce made me feel. About the bullying and sexual harassment at school. About my grandfather’s suicide. I remained silent until one day I collapsed because I hadn’t been eating enough not to. After that, my mother intervened. She no longer believed that I was “fine” like I’d passively been saying as a cover-up for all the emotions I was deeply feeling and instead put me in counseling, where I finally broke my silence. Opening up—and my faith in God—saved me.

In the years since middle school, I’ve struggled with sporadic doubts of depression and the type of sorrow that sticks to your skin as if hashtags became summer’s humidity and from seeing black bodies drop to the ground day after day just as the leaves leap from trees in the fall.

How am I still alive? How can we stay alive?

 

1. Name it & claim it

We have to take ownership of our struggle. The first step to doing that is by naming it. Knowing your enemy helps you figure out how to defeat them. Own your depression. Own your anxiety. Own your eating disorder. Whatever it may be, name it, claim it and I challenge you to take it a step further—learn about it. In your research, you’ll discover that you’re not the only one dealing with these issues and you’ll learn stories of survival too. Just ask Fantasia, Keke Palmer, or Brandon Marshall.

2. Therapy

If my mother hadn’t put me in therapy, I very may well have taken my own life by now. Therapy exists so that there is a defined, consistent space for us to be able to speak freely about our struggles to a person outside of our struggles. While confiding in close friends or family may seem like a “safer” option, we have to remember that treating our support system as therapists may eventually damage it. If you’re still a student, it’s likely that your college or university offers counseling sessions, sometimes free of charge. If you’ve graduated, call your healthcare provider to see which providers are within your network. If you’re prescribed medication to help with your mental illness, don’t be ashamed, but be careful of prescription drug addiction and abuse.

3. Write it down

Writing helps me to clear the cacophony often swirling in my head. When there are too many thoughts in my head, I find it hard to focus and instead become side-tracked by my sorrows. Writing them down, though it can be painful at times, ultimately helps me to work through and even let go of those negative emotions. Alex Elle’s #ANOTETOSELF: Meditation Journal comes highly recommended, or, for blank pages, check out these notebooks.

4. Pick up the phone

There are dozens of hotlines that allow you to call in anonymously and unload. Whether you’re dealing with the guilt of an abortion, struggling to leave an abusive relationship behind or feeling flat out worthless, there are numbers that you can call for help. Screenshot the numbers here.

5. Remember that you’re loved, valued & irreplaceable

If you can’t come up with a reason as to why your life is worth living, ask someone who loves you. Seriously—ask your mom, your cousin, auntie, best friend, special friend—somebody who loves you why they need you here. Don’t forget that. Remind yourself how you’ve already overcome. For encouragement you can see, click here.

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