As Suicide Prevention Month passes, we discuss the importance of discussing the support needed for families of color that have endured loss to suicide.

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In July 2022, my father sat inside his vehicle in my grandparents’ driveway and took his life.

While he had a history of mental illness, his death was unexpected and took our family through one of the darkest moments we’ve ever experienced.

I’ve slowly recovered from his untimely passing by prioritizing my mental health and doing what I love, like writing and spending time with my pets.

However, for my younger brother who’s in the beginning of his teenage years, coping with our father’s death may be different. While he seems okay, it’s challenging to understand what’s going on in his adolescent mind.

My father’s death has taken a mental and physical toll on my mother. I can only imagine how hard it must be to not only take care of herself, but to be there for my brother and me during this rough time.

As Suicide Prevention Month in September came and went, I was left wondering: How can parents from communities of color aid their children in their grief?

BIPOC communities face ongoing issues of racial discrimination, contributing to an increase in stress and a decline in overall mental health.

This is especially true for the Black community, particularly in terms of navigating ongoing police brutality and violence, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

“It is important to understand that due to the institutionalized beliefs and attitudes regarding race, Toya Roberson-Moore, M.D. and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center in Chicago said.

“African-Americans, Native Americans and other People of Color are still dealing with trauma and discrimination every day. These are factors that greatly impact the mental health of this marginalized population.”

Suicidality in the Black Community

Suicide remains a leading cause of death for adults in the US, and the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34.

According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suicide and suicidal ideation in the Black community is especially prevalent:

Mental Health Stigma in BIPOC Communities

Despite these rates, there’s ongoing stigma associated with mental illness, making understanding its impact and it can contribute to suicide rates in marginalized communities is essential.

In recent years, movies, TV shows, and social media have gotten more comfortable discussing the issue of mental health stigma. For many of us within BIPOC communities, however, the problem persists.

Despite the prevalence of stress and mental illness within the Black community, people feel shame for their symptoms and out of having conversations or seeking mental health resources.

This creates a cycle this can lead to a lack of treatment, ultimately contributing to rates of suicide.

There are both potential immediate and long-term effects on children who have lost a parent to suicide.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, children who’ve lost a parent to suicide are three times more likely to die by suicide compared to children with living parents.

However, once a child reaches adulthood, the suicide attempts or completion rate significantly decreases, according to Hopkins.

This makes prevention methods essential when it comes to addressing a child’s needs after they’ve experienced the traumatic event of their parent’s passing.

Each child is different, but there are some warning signs that a parent or caring adult can be aware of, including feelings of anger, sadness, and anxiety.

Other signs of trauma include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Isolation
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Reduced academic performance

Without addressing those emotions early on, childhood trauma has the potential to can lead to a path of mental illnesses like depression, PTSD, and suicidal ideation.

Every child processes death differently. When it comes to the death of a parent, particularly from suicide, the grieving period can become especially challenging. Experts suggest the following to support your family through an unexpected loss:

Parents Must Identify Their Own Needs

When it comes to trauma-inducing incidents like suicide, it’s imperative that parents acknowledge their own needs and not just tend to their children.

“As parents, we can best help our children when we help ourselves … because co-regulation and social referencing play major roles in emotional reactions within the family system, particularly in the face of tragedy …” said Roberson-Moore.

It’s okay for your kids to see you emotional or experiencing difficult moments — that’s a normal part of grieving. There’s no right way to experience an unexpected loss, and being real about your emotions may give your kids the room to share and process theirs.

If you’re unsure of where to start, some options could include speaking openly with trusted loved ones, writing about your feelings in a journal, or receiving counseling.

Start Conversations, Actively Listen

In terms of supporting your children, remind yourself that it’s okay not to have all of the answers or to have everything “together.” Spark a conversation with your child about what they’re feeling or what they may need.

Remember that you aren’t responsible for what your child is or isn’t feeling — we all handle loss differently. Allow them room to express what that may look like.

Sometimes people just want to feel heard or have the room to share what they’re experiencing, and kids are no different. Ultimately, your child needs your love and support during these difficult times, so be an active listener to them and practice not always having a response.

They may not be immediately open to sharing, and that’s okay. Let them know that the door is always open.

Consider counseling services

Bringing in a mental health professional like a counselor or psychiatrist can provide additional support to assist your child in recovering from the trauma of a parent’s passing.

“Establishing care with a mental health professional for assessment and treatment of symptoms is crucial for children who’ve lost a parent to suicide,” said Roberson-Moore.

Roberson-Moore adds that, if possible, seek mental health professionals who provide culturally-sensitive care and are affirming to BIPOC children’s identities. These professionals are less likely to be discriminatory to marginalized patients and to provide the support they need during traumatic events like a parent’s passing from suicide.

Speak with your child to discuss their preference for individual or family counseling sessions, which can involve you and their siblings if you have other children.

Dealing with a loss of a loved one is hard.

If you or a loved one are navigating severe depression or suicidal thoughts, you can reach out to:

  • Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988 (Call or Text)
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
  • National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-442-HOPE (1-800-442-4673)
  • The Trevor Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386
  • Youth America Hotline (YAH!): 1-877-YOUTHLINE (1-877-968-8454)
  • Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-HIT-HOME (1-800-448-4663)

When a family member passes from suicide, it adds additional trauma that can be difficult to recover. For children, the experience can draw up a mixture of feelings like anger and sadness.

As a parent, addressing these potential mental health issues is vital, especially for BIPOC communities that often navigate stigma surrounding mental illness.

The journey to recovery and mental wellness isn’t simple, but it is achievable. Surround yourself with positive community, and consider what the best options for you and your family may look like.

Parents have the heavy task of caring for themselves and their children after a loss. It can be easy to forget, but it’s important not to forego your own needs.

In caring for your children, keep the door open for conversation and consider speaking to experts about the proper intervention methods to help you and your child process this untimely death.