It’s a question I recently asked a large group of my own college students during a campus-wide event. Many of them Christian, from good families, with incredible potential for success. It’s a question I’ve asked the young women of The Ruby Project (a non-profit I co-founded and direct) – women who have survived abuse, being sold for sex and street life, drug addicts for parents, neglect, and untimely deaths. It’s a question I’ve asked group therapy clients, youth groups at various churches, mentoring groups, and even family members and friends. In all these groups, guess who raised their hands?
Almost every single person.
And I’m never ready for the answer. Despite my knowledge, years of clinical experience, and expertise, I’m never fully prepared to see the hands that slowly rise, becoming more plentiful than the hands that don’t, as if I’d asked about a food preference or a common schoolyard experience. It hurts me every time. Every single time, it hurts me.
Devastated by the recent suicide of 22-year-old Karyn Washington – beautiful founder of For Brown Girls and the #DarkSkinRedLipProject – who inspired many black women, including myself, to embrace the skin their in, I knew I needed to speak into the public space about the reality of suicide. As a society, ignorance will always be our greatest downfall. What we don’t know will hurt us. In fact, it will destroy us. That’s unless we can help it with knowledge and truth. Below I share 5 fatal myths of suicide and 3 simple things you can do for people in your life to prevent this tragic ending to their own lives.
5 Fatal Myths of Suicide
Myth #1: Suicide is Rare. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 25- to 34-year olds, second only to ‘poisoning’ (especially via drug misuse or overdose). Americans from this age group are currently more likely to die by suicide than by car accidents and homicide. For the younger 15- to 24-year olds, suicide is the third leading cause of death. Additionally, for every 1 ‘successful’ suicide, it is estimated that up to 12 people have at least tried to. Suicide is not rare, it is happening every day, all around us.
Myth #2: Suicide Happens to the Weak & Quiet. There’s this misconception that the people that commit suicide are those quiet individuals in the corner, wearing all black, who take very little space and only minimally impact our world. While the withdrawn and isolated show warning signs for suicide, countless people who consider, attempt, or commit suicide are highly successful, impactful, goal-driven women and men who are experts at helping other people and pros at masking their own pain. In fact it’s often this group of people that feel that they are not allowed to be needy and ask for help, because so many people, understandably, look to them for strength. But who do the strong look to? In response to Karyn’s death, @OfficicalKaira on Twitter draws our attention to the fact that we need to be checking in on the ‘strong’ among us as well.
Myth #3: People Who Commit Suicide Want To Die. Most people who are thinking about suicide do not want to die. They want to live…but just want to stop hurting. They want to be in control again – of their thoughts, of their painful emotions, of their experiences and environment, but just don’t know how. And they will do most anything to regain that control. To some, making the decision to end their life, to finally be out of pain, is almost empowering. It provides an illusion of control, even if death is the result.
Myth #4: Suicide is Purely Selfish. I’m caught off guard by the tears that fall as I write this part. I’ve had enough conversations with people that I love, with people who have felt that “everybody would be better off” without them, to know that often times, those who are thinking about suicide believe that they would be doing their loved ones a favor by ending their lives. It’s important to realize that this may be a theme in someone’s thinking pattern, and to call it out for what it is – a lie! Calling this out and affirming someone’s presence in your life could be the difference between life and death.
Myth #5: Suicide Doesn’t Happen to Black People…or the Praying Christian…or… While there are variances in suicide rates according to age, race and gender, depression is an equal opportunist and so is the suicidal thinking that often follows suit. Karyn Washington was a young Black woman. 29-year-old Lee Thompson Young, most famous for his role as Jett Jackson, was also Black. Beautiful Bollywood actress Jian Khan was of Indian descent. And 27-year-old Matthew Warren was the son of the well-known Christian, author, and pastor Rick Warren. These few examples alone show that age, race, gender, and faith do not make one exempt. We all struggle. And it’s okay.
3 Simple Life-Saving Statements
While treating severe depression and suicidal thinking requires professional attention (you can start with seeing your regular physician and getting a referral to a mental health professional, or can search and call a therapist directly), family and friends need not feel powerless. Yes, everyone’s story is different but three things are the same for all of us. There are three things we all need to hear:
- We need to know we matter.
- We need to know that pain won’t last forever
- We need to know that there’s a purpose in our living.
I can guarantee that there is someone in your life, even right at this moment, that needs to hear at least one of these things. I’m even sure that even as you read this, someone comes to mind. Please do not hesitate to reach out and encourage that person today. A few simple words from you can be the reason that someone you care about chooses life, even if just for the day. I’m wishing love and strength to you and your loved ones. And I’d love to hear your comments, questions, and stories below.
With SO Much Love,
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Mental Health Expert & Speaker Peace Amadi (Psy.D) is available to speak about mental health, faith, diversity, and other issues at your next event. For more information about her speaking presentations, visit her here or email BookPeaceAmadi@gmail.com and request booking information.