By Dylan Deprey
It was the moment after Pastor Greg Washington thrust his fist threw a wall, that he knew something was not right. Though it was not clear to him until that moment, the signs were always there.
His family history was riddled with signs of mental illness and suicide, but he had never thought to question it. The dysfunctional turmoil of a father with a drug addiction and HIV/AIDS had created a realm of consciousness that suppressed the idea that he could even remotely have mental illness.
“Sometimes people can see what you can’t see,” Washington said.
After recently getting married, his wife had started noticing things after making the move from Denver, CO to Milwaukee. As they settled into a community and a new ministry, she would watch as Washington worked tirelessly preparing throughout the week to preach the good word on Sunday, and then end up laying lifeless in a dark bedroom for the next two days. He thought he was just resting.
Even after going to therapy and having a psychiatrist recommend impatient therapy, he was not convinced.
But, as he looked at his wife, wondering why his fist was through the wall, he knew he had to check himself in to a mental hospital and get some help.
“You can’t gauge mental health by the numbers in your bank account or the degrees on your wall,” Washington said.
Washington shared his story during “Black Men Don’t Jump,” the first discussion in a series on Black men, mental health and suicide hosted by Milwaukee Area Technical College on April 24, 2018.
The series was created in collaboration with Campaign for Black Male Achievement, MATC Men of Color Program, Mental Health America, Prevent Suicide of Greater Milwaukee, MIRACLE Mental Health and The City of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention.
“Pretty much all communities do not address mental health the way that we could,” said Walter Lanier, MATC Director of Multicultural Affairs and Community Engagement. “Instead of lifting up and raising, there is a lot of stigma, particularly in men and even more so in Black men.”
“Black Men Don’t Jump” focused primarily on mental health, suicide awareness and prevention.
The most recent numbers show that Black men account for 20 percent of all suicides in Milwaukee County, according to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office.
The three major causes of death by suicide in Black males are by 1) Firearm 2) Hanging 3) Poisoning.
“Most people who attempt suicide don’t want to die, they just don’t know how else to end the pain,” said Leah Rolando, Mental Health America of Wisconsin suicide prevention specialist, to the group of students and community members.
Rolando shared a few truths to common myths that are often attributed to suicide. While some think that confronting someone about suicide isn’t helpful, that’s not the case.
“Communication actually lowers the risk,” Rolando said.
Other risk factors include mental illnesses like depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and trauma. Risks can also stem from life events like divorce, deaths, separations, family conflicts and even stress from racism and discrimination.
“If you feel something is not right, investigate it,” said Shirley Drake, La Causa Certified Peer Support Specialist, “Just by smiling or saying ‘Thank you,’ can save somebody.”
Drake said that the youth and young adults in the black community have shown suicidal tendencies like excess drinking and reckless driving, which usually stems from trauma. She said that even if it feels unbearably uncomfortable, simply talking to someone and having time for them can potentially save their lives.
“You have to care, listen and see the signs that are going on and interrupt their thinking because you are their last hope,” Drake said.
The next Black Mental Health discussion is not set as of yet, but more information can be found at https://matcmenofcolor.wordpress.com/
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free confidential support network if you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts call: 1-800-273-8255.