Last week, I joined thousands of people in shock, sadness and devastation as we learned about the passing of Karyn Washington, creator of For Brown Girls and the #DarkSkinRedLip project. Her mission was to encourage, empower and uplift women of color to recognize the beauty in darker skin, exchange dialogue regarding experiences, and discover ways to get rid of insecurities. Unfortunately, it was reported that Karyn committed suicide as a result of dealing with severe depression after the loss of her mother.
In this post, I Am Karyn Washington: Suicide, Depression & Mothers Who Left Us, by Ty Alexander, she gives insight into her relationship with Karyn and the battle with depression that they both suffered after losing their mothers (get the tissues ready). She opens up to the world by sharing not only her own battle, but the personal e-mails that the two exchanged over time. Yes, these were personal e-mails exchanged and some might think it rude or selfish to share with the world. But I, for one, was grateful for the insight. For me, I saw the post as a plea: a plea for black people to start taking depression and mental health seriously. A plea for us to realize that some of the strongest women around us, are the ones who need our help the most. It’s a plea to stop thinking that just because everything “looks” picture perfect, just because she wears a big smile, doesn’t mean that everything ok.
When are we going to stop looking down on mental illness in our community? When are we going to stop treating it as a sign of weakness? When are going to stop believing that it’s only a “white” thing or that all we have to do is “pray about it”? When are we going to stop judging our brothers and sisters for seeking therapy and treatment, especially as it relates to depression? How many more Karyn Washington’s do we have to lose before we wake up and realize that we are not immune to mental illness?
I still remember the shock of hearing about a close friend of my parents who committed suicide by hanging himself in his back yard. He left behind a young family. He was hurting but had stopped taking his medicine, probably because he was led to feel like he didn’t need it. When we let go of the judgment, the stares, the whispers, the stigma, maybe then, people in our community will feel more comfortable coming to us or seeking help when they need it.
I love the Lord just as much as the next person. But shoving prayer in someone’s face when they feel like they want to take their own life, I could imagine might be like telling someone who is having an asthma attack to just pray on it, as opposed to taking their inhaler. Encourage them. Yes, pray for them. But plead with them to seek counseling. Check in with them often. Ask them how they are feeling. Most importantly, let them know how loved they are and how much they are needed. Let them know that they are not alone.
You probably speak to a Karyn Washington every day and don’t even realize it. This story has truly made me reflect on my own actions. It’s opened my eyes once again to the severity and seriousness of mental health in our community. It’s beyond shock and awe. It’s making me think about the strongest women (and men) in my life, and wonder if they are okay? I’m not a hundred percent certain, but I will surely be asking the question.
And if you’re reading this now and this sounds like you, know this: you are loved, you are needed. You matter. Please don’t feel ashamed to reach out and ask for the help, treatment, support and encouragment that you need.
BMWK: Have you or someone you know suffered with depression or other severe form of mental illness? What advice do you have for others who may be in a similar situation?