While scrolling through social media, I ran across an article titled “Researchers unclear why suicide is increasing among black children.” I begin to read the article and learned some troubling facts about how the rate of suicide has increased amongst black youth. It then dawned on me, I’ve worked in several schools and not once have I seen or heard of the kids receiving suicide awareness information. Now, I have witnessed students receive suicide assessments. The question is, why must we wait until our youth expresses suicidal ideations to address the topic?

The article states, “Nationwide, suicides among black children under 18 are up 71 percent in the past decade, rising from 86 in 2006 to 147 in 2016, the latest year such data is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In that same period, the suicide rate among all children also increased, up 64 percent.” The article then goes on to say, “Among the youngest children, suicide for those 13 and under rose 114 percent from 2006 to 2016. In a bright spot for black youth, the rate of growth in this age group rose more slowly, at 30 percent.”

Those numbers are very alarming and unsettling. Can our community really be dropping the ball with addressing mental health topics with our youth? The answer to that question is, yes. Often times in our community mental health is swept under the rug. Instead of hearing “let’s talk about it,” or “you should see a professional,” we’re told to “pray” about it. After being told to pray about it, the topic is no longer addressed other than passer by meetings with statements like, “I hope you’re feeling better.” Now I’m not saying prayer doesn’t work, but I do feel that God has designated certain people to be counselors/therapist to help individuals and families work through arising problems and negative feelings. I’m simply saying that prayer doesn’t have to be the only option when you have people out their that our willing to utilize their learned skills to help you. It’s time we start presenting people with questions like, “How are you feeling today?” and “Do you want to talk about it?” Statements like, “Maybe you should take a mental health day,” or “Maybe you should see a counselor/therapist.” God forbid someone tag the phrases “mental” or “counseling” to anything without stigmas being associated with them. Seeing a counselor does not make you “crazy.”

Are we really taking the time to listen to our youth when they’re not okay, or are we stuck utilizing socially conditioned ideologies by temporarily addressing issues and then expecting our kids to just return to being just that, kids. How often do we listen to our youths problems without presenting statements like, “Oh, your just a kid,” or “You’re too young to be stressing.” The thing is, they’re not too young to be stressing. Our youth are faced with a lot of pressure at such a young ages. Do you remember being in school making attempts to maintain a certain grade point average, while trying to engage in extracurricular activities and simultaneously have a social life. Maybe you were the kid that was seen as socially awkward and constantly ridiculed by your peers for not having the latest clothes and shoes, and not staying up to date with trending fads.

It’s time to start asking questions about why they’re angry, sad, or stressed and actually listen to their responses without weighing in by presenting ideologies grounded in our overly corrective adult mentalities. Tell boys that it’s okay to have feelings and it’s okay to cry. You can be strong man and cry too. Tell young girls to not feel like they have to be socially accepted into the in-group to be cool. You can be a technology nerd and have only two friends and still live your best life. We as black people do not have to walk around feeling like everything must be swept under the rug in our community. We’re human, having feelings is natural. It’s when we engage in learned behavior to suppress our feelings that’s unnatural. We must stop passing down these old methods of teaching youth to suppress their feelings because we as the adults are too embarrassed for our neighbor or “church family” to know that our lives are not perfect. I can’t stress this enough, BLACK MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS! It shouldn’t be taboo to talk about stress, depression, and even thoughts of suicide, especially with our youth. The mentality to not address negative feelings needs to be erased from our minds and our community. Suicide does happen in the black community. What will you do to bring about change?

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