Updated: Dec 16, 2022
Dr. Charmain Jackman & Aneesha Perkins
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and it is critical to address a growing issue that is impacting Black and Brown communities – death by suicide. According to the NIMH, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for Black children and the 3rd leading cause of death for Black adolescents. While suicide is a topic that can be hard to discuss, breaking the silence on suicide is necessary if we want to change the devastating outcomes.
Check out some of the common myths and facts about suicide, red flags, and strategies you can use to support your loved ones who may be contemplating suicide:
Suicide Doesn't Impacts People of Color – Suicide is only prevalent among certain racial groups, right? False. At one point, there was a common misconception that suicide only impacted White people. However, the data shows a different narrative. In fact, suicide rates remain highest among Native and Pacific Islander youth, and we are seeing suicide rates for Black and Asian youth rapidly increase by 47% and 40% respectively over the past 5 years. Communities of color are being impacted, and the data shows it. We can no longer ignore these truths.
If Someone Says They're Suicidal, Listen – “They said they're having suicidal thoughts, but they probably don't mean it, right?” False. While you cannot predict if someone will die by suicide, sometimes there are cues to listen for that can raise your awareness. If the individual expresses that they have a plan to kill themself, set aside some time immediately to listen to their concerns and challenges. Dr. Jackman, who has worked with youth of color for over 23 years shares that, "even if it's a joke when a child talks about harming themselves, take it seriously.” Listen attentively and provide a space of comfort for your loved one. It is also important to note that sometimes people may be thinking about killing themselves for a long time, and for others, it may be more impulsive. If you have concerns, connect them to their primary care doctor, pediatrician, or a therapist for further assessment and to develop a safety plan.
Talking About Suicide Won't Encourage Suicidality – "If I talk about it with them, they're more than likely going to do it, right?" False. There may be some hesitancy or fear in talking about suicide with someone you care about as you may worry that discussing it with them will increase their risk of suicide. Yet, it is a healthy practice to discuss suicide with your family, friends, and children to help reduce the stigma. Dr. Jackman stated, “the more we talk about it, the more we normalize those conversations.” Most importantly, discussing such a challenging matter more frequently can help create an inviting space amongst those you care for the most.
Pay Attention to Abnormal Behaviors – Did your son or niece write a goodbye letter to their family or friends? Are they engaging in behaviors that seem out of character? If you observe odd behaviors, ask them about it. Approach them calmly and with a curious mindset. Sometimes, someone contemplating suicide may get rid of valuable items or say goodbye to loved ones. Also, the individual may make jokes about dying or not wanting to live anymore. Take those behaviors and actions seriously and discuss them more in-depth with your loved one. If they share a plan to hurt or kill themselves, help them connect to emergency services and a therapist. Here's a national suicide prevention lifeline https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ that you can provide as