As a black man, I’ll never not write about the peril and weight of suicide. We are silent on many issues that directly plague us, a major one being mental health. Robin Williams’s unexpected death is just another indication of men needing to find a trusted outlet. I can tell you from experience that prayer is not one of them.
The black community uses religion as the answer to the things we think we can’t control. You need a job? Pray about it. Your marriage is in shambles? Pray about it. Your doctor told you you have 6 months to live? Pray about it. Rather than speak about the importance of proactivity and education, black congregations are force-fed this belief that prayer fixes everything. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pray. I pray several times every day. Prayer has changed some situations in my life that I thought were so far gone. However, praying required work on my part in order to be effective. Our community doesn’t realize that prayer is only a small part of combating mental health. God can’t deliver you from that dark dungeon in your mind if you don’t know why it’s there to begin with.
Depression, schizophrenia, and mental diseases of that ilk are defects in your brain. Sometimes you’re genetically predisposed. But for some black men, mental disease is often triggered by something happening to them. I talked about that pressure to simply “be” when I wrote about DB Paul Oliver’s suicide. Yusuf Neville*, a young man who was planning a wedding with his fiancee and had his best years ahead, is a relatable example of how depression doesn’t care who you are. Black men spend so much energy trying to quiet the scary thoughts. How often do you look around and think what hides behind the smiles of the men you know and care about? Because we don’t feel safe talking about our fears and shortcomings, the mental disconnect we’ve tried to ignore will eventually bring us to our knees. When you are that low, the last thing you want to hear someone say is “pray about it”.
It hurts my heart to know that many of my brothers are out here and feel like no one will understand. I guess there’s some truth to it though. I’ve had people tell me they admire my success and how they’re proud of me. The general public cannot wrap their head around the fact that someone can be so sad inside when they have joy and bring joy to others on the outside. And to that I say, the adoration, and respect that millions had for Robin Williams had didn’t matter. His internal dialogue was louder than the love showered on him.
I’m upset, angry, frustrated, and disgusted by what’s happening in Ferguson, MO. The news is cherry-picking what they’re showing and talking about. The community response is protest because that’s a right explicitly stated in the Bill of Rights. Yet black men, black women, and black children are subject to suppression and outright violence from the police of that town and county. An entire community is having their supposed rights trampled on, going on 4 nights now. I am one of those people who can compartmentalize my emotions. So while I hurt for the family of the Michael Brown Jr and stand behind the peaceful protesters of Ferguson, I also am continuing to support black men (and men in general) in overcoming their mental health.
* A classmate of Yusuf’s penned an amazing piece for Ebony Magazine shortly after Yusuf’s death. Please check that out!
No more young black lives snatched too soon.
No more passivity when it comes to addressing the needs to treat depression.
No more wishing you could’ve done more or said the right thing at the right time.
No more relying on God alone to fix it.
Suicide is a result of sickness of the mind. Awareness is how we battle it.