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Black Suicide & Trauma: Are Our Parents a Reason We’re Killing Ourselves?

As an adult the conversations I enjoy the most occur when other individuals and I get lost in the intricacies of our upbringings. Dialogues discussing the joys of being children overflowing with innocence and living in a blissful realm of naivety where our mothers are perfect, ours fathers are alive, and anything is possible. Ironically the passion between my fellow conversationalists and myself often intensifies when painful memories begin to replay. The events I often recall are flashbacks of my childhood when my mother would lash out at me with derogatory insults, my father passing away, and the night an older white male unjustly aimed a rifle at me. It is human nature to bond over mutual pain. It is a way of saying “I may not have been present during your wicked times, but I wear your pain as well.” Our emotions and experiences are not rare occurrences that are specifically tailored for us to individually own. They are road maps connecting each human being to the next. Life has taught me that people are more alike than different. It has also enlightened me that everyone is suffering, and because of my heighten empathy, I chose to bring awareness.

Dear Black People "I've always wanted to say that". Im sure this is a sensitive subject but at best it's unavoidable. Our community is suffering from mental illness and the longer we ignore it the more detrimental it's impact will be. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among black males ages 15-24 and black woman are statically more likely to attempt suicide than black men. Suicide is also the 16th leading cause of death for Black people of all ages. 

People with suicidal ideation commonly have unaddressed traumatic experience(s) and untreated anxiety. Trauma can be caused by an overwhelmingly negative event that has a lasting impact on the victim's mental and emotional stability. According to J. Douglas Bremner, MD and acting director of Emory University's Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit "Trauma can also cause physical changes in the brain and affect how the hemispheres communicates with each other." 

Many of us are unaware that as Black adults, we are living with unaddressed trauma from our childhood. Those traumatic experiences are often caused by negative— yet normalized African American parental practices that we now view as harmless traditions. These practices include but are not limited to, physical, verbal, and mental abuse/ intimidation tactics that have been popularized for decades amongst the Black community. Because these teachings are normalized— today the methods actively create households of suffrage for Black youth. The familiarity of the environment keeps the youth incognizant of the harm done, forcing them to fall victim by unknowingly prompting them to continue the cycle of abuse once they assume parental or guardian roles.

From conversations with my peers, I’ve drawn the conclusion that Black kids and young adults aren't allowed to have an open dialogue with their parents about their harmful parental mistakes which gave birth to our own traumatic experiences. Usually it's because they (the parents) are uncomfortable with their pasts, are incognizant of the problem, can’t bare to hear their own children criticize them, or because their parents didn't allow them to have an opinion about their own childhood experiences. Adults often believe that a child’s youth creates a certain level of immunity to real or older human feelings. Study proves that majority of the human brain's capabilities are more accessible during the ages 0-5.

The sad things is, it took years for me to obtain the level of understanding I now have of my mom because I wasn’t allowed to talk to her about her shortcomings. If I attempted she’d feel attacked or that “I’m stepping outside a child’s place”. This meant the mistakes she made during my childhood were off limits. Which forced me to implement a method of discovery very similar to reverse engineering. I conducted research to understand both her and her mother individually— as well as their relationship from a more statistical stand point instead of personal. I figured a better understanding of who they were/are would help me to better understand the parental mistakes my mother made with me and why.

The fact is African Americans are hesitant to talk about mental health issues and mental disparity. In our community both are viewed as weaknesses— this mindset which cripples us from receiving help and healing. To fix a problem we must first acknowledge we have one. Acknowledging problems, seeking support, and verbalizing issues are important ways to combat dangerous thoughts and cycles. I encourage everyone to seek help and self search. Ask yourself "Did i spend enough time with my inner child today" if the answer is no, i encourage you to make time.

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