Black People Don’t Do Suicide: How the stigma around mental health almost killed me


Nikki Lynette
Nikki Lynette

September 11, 2016 makes exactly one year since I tried to kill myself. That was the date of my first attempt. If you would have told me when I regained consciousness on that day that I would be alive 365 days later writing an open letter about the experience for a huge site like this, I would have thought you were crazier than me. Until a year ago, I had done a great job of suppressing all my traumatic experiences in life. I rarely ever thought about the fact that I saw my dad hit my mom, or how I witnessed both of my parents attempt suicide at different times, or the fact that I was molested by a family member as a little girl, or how my family was homeless living in a battered women’s shelter during my formative years, or seeing how it hurt my mom to have to stand up and leave the only man she ever loved, or even the fact that my first boyfriend set me up to be gang-raped when I was a preteen. In my adulthood, I made my own little lane for myself as an indie musician, I made a decent living off my music, and lived life on my own terms. I’m vegan as hell, I’ve never drank or smoked, I’ve never even had a one night stand. Nobody is more shocked about me becoming suicidal than me.

I’ve never felt close to my family. I’ve always felt like a black sheep. And it’s not just because I am artsy and eccentric, but because people in my family do hurtful, damaging sh*t, like my aunt Peg recently sending screengrabs of the two times I mentioned my mom’s cancer on Facebook to imply I was online “telling all her business” which prompted my mom to tell me she doesn’t want me in her life right now. I have always looked forward to the day I would have my own family, so when I fell in love and ended up preggo I never imagined it would result in me losing my baby, and subsequently, losing my damned mind.

Telling my story is hard. Because it means showing vulnerability in a world where people brag about not giving a fck. It means admitting I got attached in a world where people boast about their fallback game. It means confessing that I got hurt in a world where people think that cheating and ghosting and the silent treatment are not emotional abuse. And emotional abuse can be the straw that breaks the back of a person carrying a heavy emotional burden from fcked up things that happened in their childhood. Telling my story will cast a few people I love in a bad light so I’m hesitant to say more. But I’m working up the nerve to tell. If for no other reason than to stop it from happening to anybody else.

Let’s be honest, I’m not unique. Most of us are survivors of something. How many of you have also been victims of sexual abuse? And how many of you were ignored at times when you needed love? How many had a drug addicted parent? How many had little to no support in coping with the death of a loved one? It is unpopular to admit you carry hurt. We worship rappers who self-medicate their pain away with liquor and pills. Nowadays, social media makes us all narcissists. There is a witty meme to justify our every character flaw. There is a funny video to distract us at every moment when we should be working on ourselves.Through images we can create a false reality where everything in our life is perfect, implying that we are perfect, and we look down on people who publicly throw up their hands and say “F*ck it. I can’t fake it anymore.”

Most people who deal with depression and suicidal thoughts suffer in silence. It might be your neighbor, your coworker, or even your sibling. And do you wanna know why they are silent? Shame. On the day I tried to kill myself my boyfriend yelled at me “Black people don’t do suicide.” What I have learned in the 365 days since my first suicide attempt is that admitting you want to die makes people believe you are weak. Mental illness is looked down upon not just by people of color, but in the media as well. People use the term “commit suicide” as if the act itself makes us criminals, putting us on the same level as any heartless murderer. Coming out and admitting what I have been through caused a huge backlash from the people I love most. It hurts. But I don’t care. People with psychiatric illness should not be forced to stay in the closet. We deserve patience and love. We should not be pushed away. I have mental health issues. And you are not stronger than me.

Because of my experiences over the past year, I now believe it is human nature to want to destroy the weakest animal in the pack. So to the people reading this who battle with depression and/or suicidal thoughts, I know why you are staying quiet. All of your fears and concerns are valid. I understand why you don’t wanna end up in the psyche hospital, because I have been there twice. I understand the struggle you feel everyday when it comes to taking meds, I relate to your fear. And I want to tell you something important: When people find out you are depressed, they will tell you “It gets better.” They’re lying. It does not get better. Most likely, your family will not become more supportive, your partner will not change and stop hurting you, your friends will not continue to include you in their lives. People will abandon you. You might even be told “kill yourself” by a loved one, like I was. So don’t believe people when they say it gets better, because IT won’t get better. YOU will get better.

If you are depressed or considering suicide, you have to fight the voice in your head telling you that you are worthless and unlovable, and you have to stop looking for proof that you ain’t s###. You have to force yourself not to isolate, you have to stop Googling the best ways to kill yourself and start Googling the best ways to get over depression. You have to try therapy. You will probably hate therapy, so try group therapy because it’s less corny. You have to talk to either a doctor or a naturopath about meds. (This was the hardest part for me.) The chemicals in your brain are fcked and they have probably been fcked for a long time. So you need something to help get you right.

And I need you to know, even after you start the path to recovery, you are gonna have bad days. You will breakdown, you will relive your trauma a few times. I hate to admit it, but I still struggle with suicidal thoughts. This is what recovery looks like. And the people who will step up and have your back will surprise you. Love those people. Because whoever can’t stand by you through your ugliness does not deserve the most beautiful parts of you.

People say that suicide is selfish. I say that’s bullsh*t. It is an extreme act of compassion in a hurtful, apathetic world. But what us “crazy” folks seem not to understand is if you have the power to take your death into your own hands, then you have the power to take your life into your own hands. YOU will get better. In the end, all you have is you. Now that you know a bit about my childhood, my loss, my attempt, and my survival, I will close by quoting my own song that I released 5 years ago:

“The ones you love might be the ones to let you down every time. Every time. Oh, every time. So just be sure you can survive without no one by your side. ‘Cause in life, the strong survive.”

If you or somebody you know needs help, the national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

Nikki Lynette is a dope rapper, singer, producer, songwriter, visual artist, and on-air personality. And a goddess with real locs.