What I Want Black People to Understand About Suicide and Depression

My Thing Is: Depression doesn’t mean that something “happened.” Not all therapists are effective. Suicidal thoughts can signal an opportunity to heal. Understanding these things is a matter of life and death.

Chakka Reeves
Chakka Reeves

The suicide of For Brown Girls creator Karyn Washington was a tragedy. From those who were her loyal YouTube followers to those who learned of her life only when it was over, it was easy for people to understand that.

But some of the comments I read in reaction to the 22-year-old’s death reminded me that it’s not enough to shake our heads and mourn these types of losses. I believe that we in the black community are ready to change how we view and deal with depression. I hope the following story will help my brothers and sisters understand more about how depression and suicide work. Sophistication about these issues is a matter of life and death.

That’s something that I figured out for myself one night a couple of years ago.

This particular episode was one for the books.

I felt a heat under my skull that I had experienced to some extent in the past but had never “felt” in this way. I remembered a chapter from the book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life that talked about the areas of the brain that were overactive in people with depression. The heat was localized at the top of my head, at the temples and behind my forehead, along with a duller pain at the nape of my neck. It’s my brain; it’s not me, I thought. My brain isn’t working correctly.

I took a pause from my mental tailspin to think about next steps. After one of my close friends killed herself, I’d always said that ending my life was not an option. Even if I feel like no one cares right now, I’m wrong, I told myself. If nothing else, my mother would be destroyed if I did it. I’ve got to think of something else.

I went to the computer and did a Google search for “suicide hotline.” I dialed 800-273-TALK (8255).

A voice on the other end asked me the reason for my call. I don’t remember precisely what I said, but it was something to the effect of, “I don’t want to kill myself, but I keep thinking about it.” I had made a similar statement to my therapist when I first started seeing her. I said: “I know you have to report me if I said that I’ve been thinking about that, but I don’t actually want to do that, I just think about it.”

She assured me that she wouldn’t commit me for admitting to having suicidal thoughts. If I was talking about it as more of a plan, with arrangements for my belongings and a mode of action, that would be another story.

The worker on the phone referred me to emergency mental health services at a hospital within walking distance of my house. I went to bed with an appointment for the next morning.