The pain and outrage in my father’s voice was something I had never heard before, he choked up the words to tell me my uncle Peter was gone. He had died by suicide. This was August 2009. Within a six month time-frame I experienced the loss of three family members, all men. One to gun violence, one to suicide and one to colon cancer. In my heart I felt all three deaths could have been avoided. My uncle’s death hurt in a different way, death by suicide hits you in a place that is unimaginable.
September is my uncle’s birthday month and September 10-16 is National Suicide Prevention Week. Hence, I wanted to post a piece about suicide to help destigmatize mental illness and suicide. In 2009, through a grief and loss support group I learned about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) Out of the Darkness Walk. Three months after the death of my uncle I organized some friends to participate in the walk, we name ourselves “Friends for Life.” Eight years later, with the same name, we are still walking in memory of those we lost to suicide.
Just a little bit about uncle Peter. He was loving, delightful and genuine. He traveled the world through books, but he blessed me with the interest to travel to the places he only dreamt about. He was probably the only person who truly “got me.” I am little strange, if you haven’t figured that out already. Uncle Peter was a weirdo, just like me. He made the best veggie chili I’ve ever had. His specialty spices were divine. This man even made jewelry. In my little world, he was brilliant. When I decided to study abroad in Ghana he knew more about the history of the country than I did and knew even more after I returned! His quirky personality is what made him special, but it’s also what made it hard for others to see the mental illness.
In most communities, but especially in the Black community, we don’t talk about suicide, it’s taboo. The fact that I wrote this post is making someone in my family uncomfortable. My belief is that keeping silent serves no one any good, we need to break the silence.
Every November my friends and I get together for the AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk. The goal of the walk is to hear others’ stories and to begin the conversation about ways to support those who suffer from mental illness. The other primary focus of the walk is to share lessons learned on how to heal the hearts of those who have lost loved ones to death by suicide.
If are wondering how you can help here are a few easy things you can do:
- Refrain from saying someone “committed” suicide and use the term “died by suicide.” Saying someone “committed” suicide doesn’t take into consideration that most people who died by suicide have a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness. An article by Kevin Karousou said it best:
Criminals commit crimes. Suicide is not a crime.
He wrote: That (committed suicide) is a term that needs to be expunged completely. I is inaccurate; it is insensitive; and it strongly contributes to the horrible stigma that is still associated with suicide.
- Join us for the AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk November 5, 2017 at Piedmont Park. The walk begins at 2pm. Click here to join our team or to make a donation.
- Be mindful of your “words.” How many times have you said to a co-worker “I could just shoot myself in the head or jump off this building.” Such comments are extremely insensitive, you never know who has lost someone to suicide.
- Take care of yourself. Depression is real. Don’t worry about being judged because you see a therapist. Trust me, whoever is judging is probably seeing a therapist on the low. If you or someone you know has suicidal ideations get help.
I miss my uncle dearly. I am not mad at him for taking his life; through my participation in AFSP activities I have a deeper understanding of suicide. Part of my healing process has been participating in the walk and hearing how others have dealt with grief. Also, because of my association with AFSP people have opened up to me about their experience with losing someone to suicide. Some times I am the first person they ever spoke to about their loved one dying by suicide. Helping others is my attempt to find meaning in the loss of my uncle. However, participating in the walk reminds me that there is a lot of work to be done on this issue.
For more information about suicide prevention please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at www.afsp.org,