Most recently, actress Regina King lost her son to suicide, and former 2019 Miss USA, Cheslie Kryst took her own life by jumping off her apartment building. Suicide indiscriminately impacts people of all ages and races. According to the CDC, it is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34. This is both a staggering and frightening statistic. Losing someone you love as a result of suicide is a tragedy that no parent or family should have to go through. Families are often left behind to pick up the pieces or are left trying to understand how they could have helped their loved one who was in pain. A parent or family member frequently blames themselves for not knowing or recognizing the signs of depression. In many cultures, discussing mental health issues such as depression is often frowned upon. Instances range from mothers who give birth and are expected to bounce back to normal despite issues with hormone imbalance, fatigue, and pain or teens who have to navigate the cruelty of their peers and social media. Or perhaps men who are groomed from a young age who are expected to hold back their emotions to avoid appearing weak. A common factor amongst these examples is that all facets of our culture are left vulnerable to this silent epidemic. Within communities of color, seeking mental health treatment can be frowned upon or even discouraged all on the basis of miseducation.
In our communities, there are natural stressors that many have to deal with whether it comes from work environments, financial issues, school environments, or home life. In communities of color, this can be increased by additional stressors found in society that directly have a profound impact on areas. Access to quality healthcare, for example, would allow individuals access to mental health screenings. It can also encourage those suffering to seek help. School systems that have resources for young children and teens to focus on mental wellness are often scarce in some areas. Identifying mental illness at its earliest onset no matter the age is key in preventing suicide. So many suffer in silence and shame and often mask their depression by either putting on a brave front or by trying to treat it with alcohol or drugs. In both situations, the true underlying cause of depression is not identified or addressed.
While the medical community has now included mental health assessments as part of annual wellness visits, more needs to be done. Both work and school can place undue amounts of stress and pressure on individuals. This is on top of what may be taking place in an individual's home life or relationships. Education is key and must start as early and frequently as possible. If someone is feeling down, or frequently finding themselves feeling lost, sad, depressed, they should have an avenue to free and accessible resources.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated depression and anxiety for many individuals. In addition, the long-term impacts of how having lingering symptoms of COVID impact the neurological system and mental well-being is still being studied. Many people are still masking their illness by appearing to function normally with their daily routines while secretly suffering. It is important to notice changes in behavior and to try to keep lines of communication open as much as possible. If you have young children, know what they are watching. If they play video games or use social media, know who they are communicating with. Also, watch out for changes in behavior either extreme highs or lows of young adults who may be in your life. In addition, admitting one’s own imperfections and openly acknowledging feelings or hurt can encourage those around you to open up and do the same.
There is no easy answer and as long as society has a false assumption that communities of color are not suffering from depression, the true magnitude of this problem will only be highlighted when someone famous makes headlines. Depression is not a disease that cares about race. It is an illness that like others is worsened by disparities within healthcare and community resources. In some cases having a doctor is not enough unless that doctor makes it a point to ask about your mental health and takes interest in what is going on in their patients' life. Asking the right questions by a trained medical clinician can mean life or death for those who are depressed. Having access to trained counselors in schools and at places of employment is also a necessity. The more access someone who is going through depression has, the more of a chance they may have to seek help. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255.