We Need to Talk About Black Youth Suicide Right Now, Says Dr. Michael Lindsey

I once spoke with a 15-year-old Black boy who was very depressed. He told me that when he was down about something, he wanted to knock somebody’s head off so they felt the same pain he did. Obviously, if he engages in that type of behavior at school, he’d get suspended. But nobody is seeing that kid might be depressed.

So I often say to loved ones and educators: when a kid is irritable, that could be a sign that they’re struggling with depression.

We often ask folks how they’re doing, and not so much how they’re feeling. It is so important, especially for young kids, to tap into our feelings and talk about them. What we see a lot with kids is a reticence to talk about how they feel, and let people into that space. So practicing on a regular basis is crucial.

Kids, too, can talk to each other. If a white kid wants to check in on their Black friend, they can acknowledge that what’s unfolding [the recent killings of Black people] is not right. It’s not cool, and we need to fight for a better society. Kids are the future, and they can commit themselves to the future being different.

They should ask themselves: "How do we fight injustices at school? How can we call out racism?"

If anyone is really struggling with feelings that life is not worth living, I really urge kids and family members to reach out to support lines for help.

The recent spate of killings has had a tremendous impact on me. I have become very sensitized to being Black in America, and the callous perspective on what that means, especially when you see someone die so unnecessarily, while they’re screaming out for help. Or seemingly benign things that you think you have the right to do, like jog, or enjoy nature in the park.

Hatred has become so weaponized. People are dying. I’ve struggled with my hope that things will ever get better, because haven't we seen this story over and over again? Isn't this our modern-day version of lynching?

But at the same time, the protests and activism taking place give me hope. They give me strength that we're having these important conversations, and it's not even that we're talking about pure racism anymore, but we are taking account of structural racism and how insidious it is. Perhaps change is possible.

We’re also seeing high profile Black athletes and entertainers candidly discuss mental health like Taraji P. Henson, Usher, basketball player DeMar DeRozan. It helps destigmatize these issues so kids talk about them more.

So, I'm strengthened in my resolve. We’ll see what happens next.

  • As told to Morgan Smith

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.

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