Thursday, February 2, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Wishing You Peace, Love, and Soul

  • (LEFT) Phoenix K. Jackson - Board Member of Carson J Spencer Foundation, Author of Compassion to Clarity and Back Again
  • (RIGHT) Jess Stohlmann - FIRE Program Director at the Carson J Spencer Foundation

In the wake of tragedies, it is easy to feel lost, confused, shocked, and even angry. All of these emotions are common reactions to the loss of a loved one, community member, or icon. The loss of Don Cornelius leaves many of us overwhelmed by emotions because we never would have imagined losing a man who had changed history for African Americans in the United States in this manner. As the first person to put positive images of African Americans on TV on a consistent basis, Don Cornelius made a direct impact on millions of lives while Soul Train was on the air, and far more with the legacy of his work. In the midst of tragedy, we should seize the opportunity examine the issue of suicide in the African American community. As a part of our efforts to honor of the great accomplishments of Don Cornelius, we should venerate the ways that the community has protected itself against suicide, and we should look into the steps that can be taken to prevent future tragedies.

Often, the first question we want to ask is “Why?” It is natural to want to understand something as complex as suicide. It is also normal to try and find one, simple reason. The truth about suicide is that the answer to that burning question is far too complicated to boil down to one simple answer. Suicidal people experience multiple, varied situations and struggles that eventually lead them to feel like suicide is the only remaining option. If we can find a way to intervene when we see the warning signs, suicides can be prevented. But no one can be expected to intervene when they don’t know what the warning signs are. Below is a list of some of the warning signs we can look for as communities, and a link to a helpful resource. Educating ourselves about these warning signs is a great way to work toward preventing future tragedies. We know that prevention works, and most people who attempt suicide once, will never consider it again. If we can connect people to the right resources, we can prevent those attempts from ever happening. If you or someone you know is in distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) to get help.


(American Association of Suicidology)

·         I Ideation (Threatening to hurt or kill self, looking for ways to die)

·         S Substance Abuse (Increased or excessive substance -- alcohol or drug -- use)

·         P Purposelessness (No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life)

·         A Anxiety (Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time)

·         T Trapped (Feeling trapped - like there's no way out; resistance to help)

·         H Hopelessness (Hopelessness about the future)

·         W Withdrawal (Withdrawing from friends, family and society)

·         A Anger (Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge)

·         R Recklessness (Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking)

·         M Mood Changes (Dramatic mood changes)

For more information, click here:
Part of what might make this loss so shocking is that suicide rates are low in the African American community, and especially among women. African American women have the lowest rates of suicide of any population in the U.S. For example, according the American Association for Suicidology in 2007, 1,958 African Americans completed suicide in the U.S. Of these, 1,606 (82%) were males (rate
of 8.4 per 100,000). The suicide rate for African American females was 1.7 per 100,000. The rate for Caucasion males in the same year was more than twice as high as African American males.

Slide from Center for Disease Control and Prevention

We want to highlight the things that have historically helped the African American community safeguard against suicide risk. Communities that have historically pulled together in times of need tend to have relatively low suicide rates. In the African American community, things that we know safeguard against suicide risk are: making individuals feel like they have an important, irreplaceable role in the community; empowering individuals and making sure they have a voice in their communities; and participating in faith communities that encourage feelings of belongingness and censure suicide as an option. All of these protective factors are also strong values in African American communities, so the rates for African American women are particularly low. Even with all of these protective factors, it is important that we as communities be willing to ask the right questions to make sure that we can intervene when people are in need. We should all be thinking about what we can do to stop the loss of life.
Belongingness protects against suicide. Photo by: vox_efx
Throughout the year, but especially as we celebrate BlackHistory Month, let’s join together to honor the incredible positive impact these values have had on African American individuals and communities, and work toward creating similar safeguarding values in other places. Focusing on the prevention work we can do in the future, protective factors we can work on increasing to reduce suicide risk, and honoring the life of those we have lost are the best ways to heal as a community.

As Don consistently wished us on his show, "… in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!"


For Suicide Prevention Training and Suicide Bereavement Support

Carson J Spencer Foundation

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