Black Teens and Suicide: For the Love of Siwe
The devastating issue hit home for Bassey Ikpi when a family friend committed suicide at 15. Sadly, there are so many more like Siwe Monsanto.
Siwe was living with a pain that no one should ever have to deal with. But she was a fighter. She remained transparent and courageous, sharing her story with others who might benefit from her journey. She wrote essays and stories and an unpublished novel. Her writing took on a maturity and clarity that most adults would struggle to express.
Though Siwe was an extraordinary and special young woman, sadly, she's not unique. There are countless "Siwes" out there -- young girls born carrying the weight of the world on their narrow shoulders. They struggle out of bed and into the world every day, only to come crawling back deflated and discouraged.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the third leading cause of death in teenagers is suicide. And although the rate of suicide among African-American teenagers has been historically lower than in their white counterparts, black teenage suicide rates have increased dramatically in recent years. Researchers estimate that at some point before they reach 17 years of age, 4 percent of black teens, and more than 7 percent of black teen females, will attempt suicide.
I was one of those girls, inexplicably turning myself over to sadness for as long as I could remember. I never actively tried to harm myself, but I do remember giving up on helping myself live. I stopped eating. I stopped sleeping. I stopped taking care of myself. I didn't have the strength to encourage this act of living. I wasn't sure if it was worth it.
People don't really understand suicide. It's easy to dismiss it as a selfish act. I won't argue for or against that point. However, although suicide is about those left behind, being suicidal has nothing to do with anyone but the person suffering. Losing the will to live or to continue the simple act of living is not an easy place to be. When the depression becomes so thick that you can't see anything but hurt, it is a last resort to find peace in a chaotic sadness.
I'm not advocating suicide by any stretch of the imagination, but I do believe that the first step in helping those who are suicidal is to acknowledge and accept how real their feelings are. Well-meaning people attempt to downplay these feelings out of love and fear, but trying to convince someone that what she or he is experiencing isn't real will only make that person feel more like an outcast. Getting out of bed and dusting yourself off, even kneeling in prayer, feels impossible.
People who suffer from depression need permission to feel what they feel without fear of being dismissed, sent to hell or sent to Jesus. Our young men and women are under increasing pressure to live in a world that is constantly changing and challenging.
Falling victim to the stress isn't about a lack of strength or faith; it is merely about a need for support and understanding. It is important to be able to pay attention, lend support and offer the tools necessary to increase wellness.