Black Boys, Suicide & Shame: What Can The Village Do?
The pressures of navigating prejudice, stereotypes of hyper-masculinity or over-sexualized femininity, and the daily stressors and traumas that arise from living in violent and impoverished communities make it difficult to tolerate vulnerability when strength is a necessary ingredient for resilience. Yet, it is the combination of life’s pressures which can lead to intense psychological pain and the growing fear of others learning that the pain has become overwhelming that prevents many in the Black community from connecting with the professional help that can steer them toward life-preserving solutions.
The remedy for shame is multifaceted but often boils down to a simple concept: validation. Showing empathy for the deep pain a person feels while acknowledging the pain is only one component of a multidimensional person can spark opportunities for healing that otherwise are invisible to people blinded by shame. This is such an important step toward supporting a person struggling to believe his life matters that psychiatrist Christopher Shea encourages use of shame attenuation during assessments of suicide to ensure the person feels comfortable enough to discuss their thoughts. Our ability to collectively attenuate shame, or make it less of an obstacle to a person seeking help, may be the spark for a mental health revolution that many of us desire but collectively have trouble attaining.
Our community can lead this revolution by recognizing the signs that lead to suicide and taking meaningful action to addressing early signs before crises arise. One simple step toward a reimagined approach to suicide in our community is encouraging parents to matter-of-factly ask their troubled child whether he has contemplated suicide and help the parents understand that asking about it doesn’t make suicide more likely but simply reduces shame and opens an avenue for help. Connecting with mental health professionals leading the charge to reshape mental health in our communities such as psychiatrist Sidney Hankerson who has developed projects like his Community Partnered Approach for Depression which trains pastors and other clergy to identify depression in the Black community are key to meaningful change.
Finally, being attuned to hopelessness that manifests as depressed mood, thoughts of disappearing, or suddenly giving away important possessions allows the families and friends of those at risk for suicide to know when it is time to intervene. If the burden of those who fear honest expression of their pain is shared then we truly demonstrate Black lives matter regardless the circumstance.
Suicide is preventable. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, please visit Suicide.org or call 1-800-SUICIDE.
Dr. Isaiah Pickens is a clinical psychologist who trains health professionals and teens on psychological trauma and suicide prevention. He is the founder of iOpening Enterprises, a multimedia company specializing in developing entertaining and educational stories for teens, young adults, and the adults who work with them. Follow Dr. Isaiah Pickens @PickensPoints.