Columns & Blogs

Suicide not just a ‘white thing’

Kehlani during a 2015 performance in New York City. Kehlani recently made a suicide attempt.
Kehlani during a 2015 performance in New York City. Kehlani recently made a suicide attempt. Getty Images for vitaminwater

I’ve been thinking about suicide lately.

Don’t worry – I haven’t been considering taking the plunge. However, the topic of suicide has been in the news lately, particularly on the entertainment side of things. (The fact that April 5 marked the 22nd anniversary of the suicide of alt-rock icon Kurt Cobain made this an even more relevant issue worth discussing this week.)

A couple of weeks ago, tattooed, on-the-rise R&B singer Kehlani attempted suicide. While the details of the events leading up to her attempt has been speculative, it didn’t stop R&B/pop star Chris Brown from throwing in his 2 cents – and appalling a lot of people in the process.

Brown, no stranger to drama involving young R&B starlets, took to Twitter to criticize Kehlani after she posted on Instagram a post-attempt shot of herself in a hospital bed. “There is no attempting suicide,” he tweeted. “Stop flexing for the gram. Doing [expletive] for the comments under your pics don’t look so bad.” These are just some of the callous comments he made, prompting many in the Twitterverse to lambast him for being, well, Chris Brown.

Another person who was, shall we say, suicide-shamed on social media was actor-turned-screenwriter Wentworth Miller. A meme was going around showing Miller’s lean body back when he was on the TV show “Prison Break” alongside a more recent photo of him, sporting a few pounds and wearing a T-shirt. Miller took to his Facebook page to address the meme and why he doesn’t have the studly frame he once had.

“First and foremost, I was suicidal,” Miller wrote. Miller, who came out as gay in 2013, said he has struggled with depression since childhood. “Ashamed and in pain, I considered myself damaged goods. And the voices in my head urged me down the path to self-destruction. Not for the first time.”

Miller admitted that instead of drugs or alcohol, he chose food as his salvation, hence the photo. “There were stretches when the highlight of my week was a favorite meal and a new episode of ‘Top Chef.’ Sometimes that was enough. Had to be.”

Miller wasn’t the only one to cop to suicidal thoughts recently. In a Rolling Stone interview, comedian Tracy Morgan talked about contemplating suicide after a much-publicized, near-fatal 2014 car accident left him hospitalized and killed his friend, comedian James “Uncle Jimmy Mack” McNair. “My thoughts – I was in a dark place,” he said. “I was sitting here, contemplating suicide. I couldn’t walk.”

Of course, Morgan, who’s now out on the road doing standup, got out of that dark place. The same goes for Miller, who’s about to do a “Prison Break” reboot, and if those Brown comments don’t keep her down, Kehlani. Unfortunately, some people become complete tools whenever somebody famous contemplates suicide. I can just hear ill-informed trolls pondering aloud, “How can they be suicidal? They’re famous!”

Also unfortunately, when people hear that a celebrity has tried or contemplated suicide they may feel “If he can’t deal with this, how can I?” That’s not good either.

That’s not to suggest people shouldn’t talk about their depression, the dark places and dark thoughts they’ve had. Removing the stigma of mental illness is important. It’s also important to recognize that suicide isn’t just a problem for white people. A study that was released last year reported that suicide rates among black children doubled between 1993 and 2012, surpassing their white counterparts, which dropped during the same period.

Having a black performer like Morgan, as well as Miller and Kehlani (who are both of mixed race) admit to suicidal thoughts may finally show that suicide can no longer be seen as “a white thing.” Minorities need professional help too. More importantly, they need to be shown they’re not alone when dark thoughts hit the brain.

Whether you’re black, white or whatever, people shouldn’t be afraid to admit that they have or have had mental issues. You may end up saving some people. Hopefully, that’s what I just did.