Suicide Doesn’t Know Color

By Guest Blogger Glenn Proctor

Before you read my blog post, a bit of mental health literacy from the National Council for Behavioral Health and Mental Health America: Just know the first sentence of this piece is written for the sake of history. Never say ‘commit’ suicide; instead say someone took their life by suicide or died by suicide. Commit implies a sin or a crime. Suicide is neither a sin nor a crime. It is a mental or emotional disorder, sometimes undetected or untreated, and sometimes temporary, with depression, anxiety and isolation being the most common feelings for suicide victims or attempters.   – Glenn

Growing up, I remember hearing, “Black folks don’t commit suicide.”

I also heard disparaging remarks about adults and children suffering from mental illness. I’m certain I made insults as well.   

“You know she ain’t right.“ “Something’s wrong with him.” “He’s touched.” “That boy’s crazy in the head.”

The language about mental illness and suicide has changed over the years, but society still has a long way to go. We must continue to learn the truth about mental illness and the right words to describe and talk about suicide. Most importantly, we must learn how to help those in distress, especially during this pandemic.

“Just get over it and move on” is not a suitable response. And, having a macho attitude, as many men do, about mental illness or suicide only buries the situation. Transparency means acceptance.

In the Black community, there remains a deep-seated stigma about suicide and mental illness. Neither discriminate. One in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. One in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness. Black Americans are a major part of those numbers.

“World Mental Health Day Observance” by United Nations. Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As a suicide prevention and mental health first aid instructor and grief counselor, my mission is to help others, specifically Black Americans and military veterans, and to encourage more people to take suicide prevention and mental health first aid courses. In most areas, the courses are short duration and free.   

I am a suicide survivor, having heard the shot as my grandfather took his life in an adjacent room, had military “brothers” lose their lives to suicide, had suicide ideations during my worst drinking binges and have written about suicide for decades as a journalist, poet and instructor.  

Glenn Proctor

As a Vietnam veteran, I have survivors’ remorse, knowing my name is not on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Coping with those thoughts remain a struggle, even to this day. And, there’s a reason the term is “recovery alcoholic.”

Truth is Black people take their own lives. Black people attempt suicide and have suicide ideations. The secret is out. We are not immune to suicide and mental health issues.

With the pandemic, racial unrest, unequal justice, and continued economic stress, suicide rates among African-Americans have climbed, created by fear, uncertainty and increased anxiety levels, especially for those with depression, anxiety, other untreated mental health issues or isolation.  

Especially concerning in the recent decade is the rise in suicide deaths among Black youth, nearly doubling from 2007 to 2017. Recent numbers show that Black children under age 13 are twice as likely to die as their white counterparts.  

As of 2018, suicide became the second leading cause of death in Black children, ages 10-14, and the third leading cause among Black adolescents, ages 15-19.

Paramount among the risk factors for youth suicide are bullying, bullying others, trauma, LBGTQ and racial discrimination and access to firearms. Another factor is health care disparities since Black youth often do not receive treatment for depression or receive treatment after a suicide attempt.    

Suicide numbers among Black adults are also climbing. In Cook County, where Chicago is located, Black men accounted for 80 percent of the suicides this year.

Research by the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry says Black adults are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health issues, including depressive disorder or anxiety disorder. Facing the prospect of being a victim of the justice system – or the fear of being stopped by police or accused of something by a “Karen” – is a common fear of most black men, including those who are famous, considered middle class or well-to-do.

Despite being 13 percent of the U.S. population, the Black community is 40 percent of the homeless population, 50 percent of the prison population and 45 percent of the children in foster care. Because of that exposure, the chances of developing a mental illness is increased.

With Black veterans, the numbers are just as alarming. About 45 percent of homeless veterans are Black or Hispanic, with Black veterans compromising most of those situations.

On any given night in America, more than 40,000 veterans are homeless and another 1.4 million are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, untreated mental illness or substance abuse issues. Women veterans are the fastest growing segment of homeless veterans.

For me, working with the veterans’ community is a focal point.

I admit there have been unfortunate and fatal situations involving Black men and police in Charlotte, yet I applaud the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police for having a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained to de-escalate hostile situations involving possible mental issues situations. Mental Health America has trained a good number of police and firefighters in mental health first aid and suicide prevention.

Twice I have been called to assist CIT officers with situations involving veterans.   

In the first instance – the only time I had to respond to a crisis scene – I helped negotiate the peaceful apprehension of a Black veteran who served in Afghanistan and was suffering from PTSD. He was loud and threatening inside his apartment and the situation had become unstable. After more than 40 minutes, the situation ended peacefully without any injuries.

Twice since, I accompanied CIT officers to visit the veteran who is back on medication and keeping up with his VA visits. I am proud that I was able to help, but the episode was mentally draining beyond belief. Which is why self-care for all of us, especially during this pandemic, is absolutely essential.

For those of us who are peer support professionals, the work is never done. None of us can – or should – turn our backs on conversations about suicide, mental health or grief. And in the Black community, it is a priority because mental health issues and suicide are continuing to take an increasing toll.

So, what can any of us do as Black Americans to improve our mental health and lessen our trauma and grief? I added grief to the equation since all us, by admission or not, are currently grieving, especially the loss of connection.

Because of Black America’s history and the issues that plague our communities, socialization is, experts contend, our most important coping mechanism:

  • Communication. By email, text, social media and phone. As difficult as it is to gather during this pandemic, an outside gathering with social distancing and masking protocols might help ease stress, especially to help with isolation and having engaging conversations with people we trust.
  • Get clinical help if an extreme condition develops.  
  • Talk about experiences of racism with those you trust. One study of African-American women said those who experienced racism and kept it to themselves created shorter telomeres, an indicator of chronic stress and aging.
  • Self-care. Engage in activities that you enjoy. As much as possible, avoid substances and excessive alcohol use. Be aware and recognize symptoms of racial trauma (fatigue, anxiety, depression, sleep depravation).
  • Understand that racism is serious and it deeply affects emotions. In addition to communication and self-care, focus on developing coping strategies; including distractions that help lower negative emotion.

Life Coach Glenn Proctor is certified as a Grief Support Counselor, QPR Suicide Prevention Instructor, Youth Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Adult Mental Health First Aid Gatekeeper and NC Peer Support Specialist (with Veterans’ Designation). He retired as executive editor and vice president of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  The 40-year journalist and media professor shared in the Pulitzer Prize at the Akron Beacon Journal. He is a former Marine gunnery sergeant, author of five books and founder of WRITING BOOTCAMP Charlotte. Proctor coaches from lived experience – alcoholism, foster care, single parent, multiple marriages and cancer.  He has mentored hundreds of students, veterans, career professionals and entrepreneurs.    

Special Event Notice:

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020 from 7-8:30 p.m. EST, Stacy and Robert L. Dortch will host a Zoom conversation on mental wellness and practicing self-care during the looming holiday season. Special guests will be licensed psychologist and seminar leader Dr. Micah L. McCreary and social and mental health advocate Princess Blanding. Join this session of The Living Room Talks on Zoom by registering here by Noon EST on Wednesday (Oct. 28).

Be Present, Yet Stay Ready

I am all about practicing self-care and being as gentle as we can with ourselves during this pandemic; but make no mistake – it’s just as important to honor our life’s calling day to day, so that when we’re on the other side of this darkness, we’ll appreciate both how we’ve grown and the tangible wins from having done our part to build a bridge for others.


Not sure what your purpose or calling may be? Sit with yourself and ask what truly brings you contentment or leaves you full. 

Intentionally nurturing your kids or others? Leading from behind or having a seat at the table? Making people laugh?

Praying for and with someone? Baking to fill stomachs or to show others that they’re loved? Supporting someone’s dream in an administrative (wind beneath the wings) role?

Being a good listener or hand-holder? Standing up for the voiceless? Creating safe spaces for others to be themselves? Giving hope to those who have lost their way?


The list could go on and on, and your manner of execution could be simple or sophisticated. What matters is that you “do you” – which becomes an act of love to yourself that also graces the world, with powerful ripple effects that may extend far beyond your sphere, even unto future generations. 

Stacy Hawkins Adams

Value Friendships

By Guest Blogger DaNika Neblett Robinson – (In honor of International Women’s Day)

Like organizations, it is important to have a Board of Directors to assist you with the strategic direction of your life and ensure that you are prosperous. Their purpose should be to check on you, connect with you, and to challenge you to be a better version of yourself. These are the people who would probably say, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” (3 John 1:2, KJV).

Yes, you have to be careful about who you allow into your personal space. But, being too cautious can be detrimental. “Let your conscience be your guide” (Jiminy Cricket, from the movie Pinocchio, 1940).

At work, I have a Tribe that I connect with weekly. Being the only person of color in a senior leadership role on my campus, I know it is my duty to connect with subordinates, particularly those that look like me. During this weekly sync up, we talk about a variety of things. I create a safe space where they are free to vent as well as encourage. Other leaders may frown upon this approach but my authentic leadership style* compels me to:

* understand my purpose;

* practice solid values;

* lead with heart;

* establish connected relationships; and

* practice self-discipline.

As an author, I am a member of Focused Writers led by my mentor Stacy Hawkins Adams. My fellow writers and I receive writing tips from Stacy as well as each other. Writing a novel or speech or even a blog can be a lonely process. Having people you can count on to share what projects they are working on while gently nudging you to meet a deadline has been critical. Although we typically meet virtually, we have been diligent about meeting in-person as well. These connections have helped us to remember why we write and solicit ideas that can benefit us as we move forward.

In my personal life, I have my God Sistahs. These women serve as a sounding board for me. They have helped me to see things from a different perspective while loving me through my hot mess moments. Our friendships have gotten us through turbulent times when dealing with the loss of family members. Assisted us in rearing our children who are now adults. And ensured we remained in healthy relationship while supporting the need to breakaway when necessary.

On my path to become a doctor (Ed.D), I had the pleasure of spending three years with 17 brilliant people. Being a first-generation, nontraditional college student, I did not have the standard undergraduate experience.  No roommates. No student life. No sorority. But I do not feel like I missed out on anything because this cohort of smart people inspired me to be a passionate educator. We started the doctoral program very green and not knowing our super powers. Any time we have the opportunity to reconnect, we remind each other of how far we have come. Those moments together are priceless.

Being a busy woman who travels to and fro regularly, it is imperative for me to return to home base. The greatest of all friendships for me is that which I experience with my life partner/husband. He knows when I am drained and suggests I take a nap. I laugh at his dry jokes. We have intimate conversations about our children and what is next for them. Most of all, he is my biggest cheerleader. I could not ask for a better person to share my life with.

Hebrews 10:25 (NLT) says it best, “And let us not neglect our meeting together as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Do not downplay the value of friendships. Do not limit the number of people you allow in your personal space, simply because you fear being hurt once again. Know that all interactions are needed as you continue your metamorphic journey.

*George, William W. Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Editor’s Note: This column first appeared on DaNika’s blog, The Metamorphic Journey. Visit here and subscribe: themetamorphicjourney.org.

DaNika Neblett Robinson is the author of  The Metamorphic Journey. This page-turning novella explores three teenage mothers’ quest to succeed. The Metamorphic Journey is also the name of a movement DaNika founded to provide individuals with opportunities to foster personal growth. DaNika has served as a higher education administrator for more than 20 years and is currently the CFO of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary. A graduate of the Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University and an expert in transformational leadership, she speaks widely about excellence in leadership, in particular to women’s organizations and audiences. She also uses her knowledge to empower young adults to embrace their purpose. Learn more about DaNika and her body of work at themetamorphicjourney.org.

Are You Ready for Next-Level Living?

Hey you, it’s Dec. 5.
For the final 26 days of 2019 …challenge yourself to stretch beyond your usual boundaries and plant seeds for a next-level version of you to blossom in the year to come.
Do something that scares you.
Explore an unknown path with an open mind.
Seek to understand rather than be understood.
Be kind, even when it’s hard.
Say no to a few “good” things so you’ll be available to say yes to your “great” and purpose-driven opportunities.
Give without expecting anything in return.
Say “thank you” for all of the lessons you’re learning along the way.
This is the pathway to a life that will open your heart, elevate your humanity and multiply your joy.
Come on…it’s awaiting you.
Stacy Hawkins Adams 

Keep Growing and Glowing

Own who you “used” to be, whether amazing, challenged or in between.
Look back at that girl (or guy) and laugh, cry, shrug or applaud.
Give thanks for the lessons you learned and how far you’ve come.
Embrace your truths with humility, grace and gratitude.
Don’t let anyone make you feel less than or ashamed because you had to go through the growing process.
You could have chosen to stay stuck, remain angry or keep your walls in tact.
Instead, you pushed through. You learned more about yourself, and began to understand others.
Your heart expanded. Your fears shrank. Your dreams took hold.
And now…now you can stand tall in who you are becoming…still.
The old you helped shape the newer you, so that you could be a better you for the purpose you’ll live out today and hopefully tomorrow.
Doesn’t that make it all worth it? The twists and turns, surprises and sorrows, great rises and steep tumbles?
Be grateful for it all, grow from it all, and love yourself (and others) no matter what.
You purpose has given you wings. 

Stacy Hawkins Adams

CCO use

 

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Don’t let the truths about yourself scare you; let them grow you.
If you had no work to do, life wouldn’t be called a journey.
It’s your choice whether to risk the messiness that comes with living fully or play it safe and end up with a pile of “What ifs?”
Be willing to do the work and create a masterpiece. This will be your legacy, and perhaps, the memories you someday cherish most.

– Stacy Hawkins Adams

70639114_10157618003667359_6600580279650222080_n

5 Ways to Ignite Your Inner Champion

Admit it: You’ve already spent the first few hours of this day checking the needs of your family, your employer and maybe even your friend and colleagues off your To Do List. Perhaps you’ve treated yourself to a cup of coffee or tea, but have you given yourself a dose of care and encouragement, too?

If not, here are 5 strategies to consider that you can perhaps transform into helpful habits. When you treat yourself to a few personal wins, everyone around you wins, too.

  • Accept today that you are enough  – good enough, lovable enough, smart enough – to have dreams; to embrace them (however unattainable or simple they may seem), and to pursue them in consistent and strategic ways that transform them into your reality.
  • Choose Wisely the inner circle to share your goals, your fears and your victories with, for they’ll form the core that carries you through doubting days and encourages you to conquer the hills that stand between you and that new reality you desire. Help them dream big and win big, too.
  • Give Up your Superwoman or Superman cape and surrender perfection. Give your best and release the rest. Trust that your sincere effort, and being your authentic self, will produce the grace and the results you need, just when you need them most.
  • Move Forward with the assurance that wherever you are is your assigned circumstance for this season, regardless of how you got there. You may grow weary, but keep going. Be grateful that you’re trusted by the Creator to do the right things in this mighty or humble place. Your positive actions and attitude are creating a ripple effect in your home, school, workplace, community, and possibly, the world.
  • Keep Reading my books and others! Reading will enhance your life by lifting your spirits, taking you on journeys (in your soul and imagination) and helping you view life from another perspective. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy my books and also consider giving at least three authors who are new to you a try this year. I’m confident you’ll discover some hidden gems.
achieve-1822503_1920

Why March Madness Should Matter To You

If you’re in any way familiar with college basketball, you’ll know the term ‘March Madness,’ which describes the season of NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments that determines the championship teams each year.

Even a sports novice like me knows that these weeks of play matter most – to the teams and their coaches, to the fans creating fantasy leagues, and to students and alums of schools in the running to claim the title. Every team wants to make it to the Final Four and finish with the big win.

Because March also ushers in Women’s History Month and my favorite season (spring!), and continues the Christian period of Lent leading up to Easter, I consider it an ideal time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished so far this year and renew my commitment to thrive.

I invite you to create your own version of “March Madness” and do the same:

  •  Read a few books that encourage you and open your mind to new perspectives. (Here’s one recommendations, but there are many good options: The Confidence Code: The Science & Art of Self-Assurance by Katty Kay & Clair Shipman)
  •  Write journal entries, essays, poems, short stories or chapters in your book-in-progress that reflect your goals and dreams. If you can better articulate your inner world, you can manifest it.  (Details about my author coaching opportunities are here.
  •  Review your 2019 goals and be honest about whether you’re truly ready to live “Life Untapped” or if you’re more comfortable “talking versus doing.”
Wherever you are in the process, NOW is the perfect season for rebooting rather than ruminating with regret. Go for it, and view each milestone as a win. Seemingly small victories eventually lead to battles won.
tic-tac-toe-1777933_1920

Respect Your Million Little Things

When your college-age daughter comes home for spring break and convinces you to binge watch the hit TV show A Million Little Things, it’s a struggle to get anything else done. (Amazing show!)

But as a writer, at least I can count this as storytelling homework, and  the takeaways from every episode are so rich that they leave you contemplating life, grief, ethics, truth, relationships, the power of love and more.

Just halfway through watching the season on demand, the lessons I’ve gleaned so far are ones that most of us already know, but often need reminders to practice. Among them are these gems:

  •  You never know what someone else is going through, so be kind.
  • You never know what someone else has been through, so stop judging.
  • Things aren’t always what they seem, so quit longing for the greener grass across the fence.
  • Pause in your busyness to really see and hear the people closest to you. Give them the space to be vulnerable and imperfect, and love them anyway.
  • Love yourself enough to give life all you’ve got, no matter how many times you fall and have to get back up again. You and your purpose are worth it.

May these reminders guide our actions and interactions in the days, weeks and months to come, until we no longer need to recall them, because they’ve become our habits.

 

IMG_6387

How Taking Risks Helps You Grow

Yes – there will be missteps, mistakes and moments of doubt when you set sail in a new direction; but is the alternative really better?

Stay anchored in who and Whose you are, but don’t stay put and get stuck.

Launch out into the deep and experience your life, your relationships, your purpose and the things you’re most passionate about from another vantage point.

You’ll see – perspective is everything, and so are the new levels of hope, possibilities and joy you didn’t think were possible.take a leap

When you take a chance on you, you’ll never go wrong. If you fail, learn the lesson. If you succeed, use that blessing as fuel to go to the next level.

Love you, trust you, honor you. Be your own best friend so that you can be a better friend to others.

When you grow your heart, your mind and your purpose in ways that stretch you, you elevate the energy around you and within you, and bring others along for the beautiful ride.

So today, don’t dwell on what could go wrong. Focus on what could go right, and work on making that vision your reality.