By Heather M. Cain, LPC, LCPC
Let's chat about a sensitive topic that is often hushed in our community...Suicide prevention among African American women. It's time we break the silence, embrace vulnerability, and empower ourselves and our sistas to tackle this issue head-on.
A Silent Struggle
In the African American community, we often find ourselves balancing multiple roles – as mothers, daughters, sisters, and caregivers. This strength, resilience, and fierce determination are woven into our DNA. However, these very qualities can sometimes lead us to hide our pain and struggles, fearing that vulnerability might be perceived as weakness. Societal expectations, racial disparities in healthcare, and the stigma surrounding mental health can create a unique set of challenges for us. We're expected to be the backbone of our families and communities, but who is there to support us when we need it most?
The Power of Connection
It's essential that we foster an environment where open conversations about mental health are welcomed. By connecting with one another and sharing our stories, we can break down the walls of silence. An honest answer to the simple question "How are you doing?" can be the start of a life-saving conversation. I always say Self-Care Isn’t Selfish! Prioritizing your own well-being is an act of self-love and resistance. Self-Care looks like taking time for self-reflection, practicing mindfulness, and engaging in activities that bring you joy. When you care for yourself, you're better equipped to care for others.
Recognizing & Support
Sis, let's take care of our sista-friend by educating ourselves about the warning signs of suicide. We need to pay attention to changes in your sista-friend’s behavior. Is she withdrawing from social activities, increasing her alcohol and/or substance use, or talking about feeling hopeless. Don't hesitate to ask her if they're okay and if they need help. Whether or not she says she's okay, here are three things you can do to help her:
1. Create a safe space where she can be vulnerable. No matter how long you have been friends with someone, vulnerability isn't easy. Celebrate her vulnerability regarding her mental health and support her without judgment.
2. Don’t make her feel like bad about not being okay. Sometimes we keep secrets to ourselves for fear of what others would say if we told them. If your sista-friend tells you she’s not okay, do not shame her for feeling the way she feels. Shaming her for her feelings may lead to turning her feelings in to and on to herself.
3. Encourage her to get help. There are therapists who specialize in culturally sensitive approaches and understand the unique challenges we face as African American women. Seeking professional support is a courageous step towards healing.
If you don’t remember anything else, remember this: You are not alone in your struggles. There is strength in your vulnerability. You are loved. You are important. Your mental health matters. You matter!