I cannot tell you how many people said to me about Sandra Bland’s death being officially ruled a suicide, “We just don’t do that.”
And by ‘we’ they mean black people.
We can debate whether she took her own life.
Certainly her family doesn’t believe she did.
But to say that ‘we,’ black people don’t commit suicide is just not true.
Just in reference to young people in their teens and 20’s, A 2009 National Institutes of Health study found that quote, “Suicide is the third leading cause of death in all teens in the United States. Historically, black teens and young adults have lower suicide rates than white teens, but in recent decades, the suicide rate for black youth has increased dramatically.”
To ignore this fact and to boil it down to old fashioned thinking like ‘we just don’t do that’ is to do a disservice to Ms. Bland and to the millions of young people who suffer from depression and other mental health issues.
Recently for The Huffington Post, Reverend Dr. Susan K. Smith wrote a very persuasive and moving article about this issue.
In the article Dr. Smith tells the story of two young, African American, women who by all accounts appeared to be well-adjusted, yet within the span of six months she said both of them tried to commit suicide.
Smith writes quote, “They were feathers in the caps of their parents. One even prayed with a group of older women when her young cousin had apparently tried to commit suicide, and her prayer was powerful. Yet, six months later, she herself had tried to take her own life.”
What made that situation and other worse is not just the mentality among whites, but especially among African Americans, that getting psychological help or admitting mental illness is somehow blasphemous or against God’s will; that all one needs are Jesus and a pastor – that as she writes, “This is nothing but the devil.”
But the devil is in the detail here.
The British Journal of Psychiatry found that black women are more likely than girls of other ethnicities to self-harm; meaning cutting like the types of scars the autopsy revealed about Ms. Bland.
Last year writer Janelle Harris wrote a lengthy piece about the dangers in “Ignoring the Crisis of Cutting and Self-Harm Among Black Children.”
Harris first words out of the gate from March 1, 2014 were, “Today is Self-Injury Awareness Day. It’ll hardly get a passing mention across most African-American media platforms because it’s not a “black issue.” On the contrary, it is,” she says.
I encourage you to read it.
And I encourage all of you to do some research on mental health issues.
It’s not just a white thing- never has been- but now even more so.
If you really care about Sandra Bland, those who self-diagnose, or those who are clinically diagnosed, educate yourself.
Young lives, and some older ones, depend on it.