*It was an ordinary day when he committed an unordinary act. Corey ended his life.
While many people were just waking up to get ready for church, a South Los Angeles couple was awakened by a call that their fourth child had taken his own life.
They were leveled by the news. The sound emitted from the depths of their soul was impaling. Between the tears and wailing raged the question, “Why?” He was only 22-years-old.
Yet his premeditated act of suicide showed that he was precise and resolved in what he wanted to do; strangely enough, these were attributes this young man once possessed but attributes his family watch slowly erode over the years from his battle with depression.
“My son is gone,” cried his father as he sat holding his wife, broken, confused and lifeless. “If he had been taken from me by a car accident or gang related violence there would be a reason I could wrap my mind around why he is gone. I loved my son. This is something I don’t understand.”
On the surface their son didn’t seem different from other young men. Corey had his usually ups and downs, hiccups and bumps associated with being young and African American. His stents in school were inconsistent. Yet he had a sharp mind, keen aptitude and some sense of what he wanted to do with his life. His parents said he was studying the field of architecture and wanted put his love of art, science and mathematics to work. He personified hope and promise by virtue of his youth and talent, but somehow he didn’t see it.
Every 10 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide. Every 19 minutes, someone is left to make sense of it, according to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.
Corey’s parents are struggling with this very issue right now. In the African American community it is bewildering challenge because the very topic of suicide remains taboo. And depression is routinely viewed as nothing more than the blues, something you just get over just like your ancestors got over “many dangers, toils and snares” through faith, perseverance and inner strength. Given the history of slavery, this was always held as a reasonable expectation, our duty.
Corey didn’t get over it, despite his rich heritage of courage and strength. When he lost his battle with depression, he succumbed to the unthinkable.
Corey’s story is not anomalous and shatters a deeply entrenched belief that Black folks just don’t commit suicide. It’s a myth.
In 2006 the alarm was sounded when suicide statistics revealed that it was the third-leading cause of death among African American young adults between 20 to 29 years old. And among African American adolescents and young adults, males were found to have the highest rates of suicide attempts and successful suicides. But those seemed like statistics, nameless, faceless statistics – until now.
Corey’s parents may never know why he chose to take his life. It’s hard to fathom that the pressures of life were that insurmountable, but it appears for Corey they were. What we do know is that an estimated 19 million Americans suffer from depression. Corey was among them and at an increased risk because of his race, age, and gender. When it comes to clinical depression, which he suffered from and was being treated for, it’s beyond the “blues.” In fact two-thirds of those who commit suicide suffer from a depressive illness. Far too many of them have not been clinically diagnosed and are not being treated.
As Corey’s parents, family and community look for answers, they can’t help but blame themselves and loop a myriad of “what if I would have done” scenarios in their mind. As many contemplate the “whys” they range from the ills of a counter-culture, permissive parenting, benign neglect; a worsening local economy, dashed hopes of gainful employment – to despair when life’s realities don’t mirror the fantasies promulgated by the media and their ethereal expectations.
Perhaps the journal retrieved by the authorities will answer some of the “whys” for his parents, though it won’t bring him back.
The alarm has sounded. The myths have been dispelled. There are signs that should cause us all to wonder. As a community we need to know those signs are and learn what to do about them. A great place to start is at Mental Health America, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people live mentally healthy lives. They have a great fact sheet called “Depression and African Americans.”
As for Corey’s family, which is part of my extended family, the journey towards healing will be long one. They will get there. As a family, we will help them.
(If you have comments about Veronica’s View, email them to [email protected])