I hate to be a Christmas party pooper, but this is not “the most wonderful time of the year” for everyone. For many families, the birth of Jesus will be overshadowed by the death of a loved one.
“Check on your strong friends.” “You never know what someone is going through.” These statements are making the rounds again on social media after the death of choreographer and dancer Stephen “tWitch” Boss, who recently “self-transitioned.”
But it may not be enough in a society that doesn’t believe boys should cry and given America’s medical history with African Americans.
We don’t deal in reality or with history. How then can we expect these men to reveal their weaknesses and to share their deepest and darkest secrets when we prefer picture perfect smiles over the real picture?
While the belief that most suicides occur over the holidays is a myth, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicide is on the rise after a two-year decline.
Suicide among African American youth and men is increasing and is the second leading cause of death in the 10-19-year-old demographic, according to the American Academy of Childhood and Adolescent Psychiatry.
“Anything that is perceived as mental health-related is taboo in the Black community. To further complicate things, ‘getting help’ is seen as a weakness so folks press on even when they are struggling. Doing so is part of a cultural legacy of survival in the face of brutal circumstances,” said Rheeda Walker, professor and author of The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health.
And who do you call for help when your loved one is having a mental health crisis?
While there are numerous “warm lines” for the persons themselves to call, one too many cases of fatal police shootings involving someone experiencing a mental health crisis has not helped the situation.
“Being a black man in America means being my brother’s keeper. Being a black man in America means being my brother’s keeper while keeping a distance from my brother because I don’t trust him further than I can see him. It’s believing the cops don’t care about you. It’s learning how not to doubt yourself because when you’re born everyone else already does,” wrote poet Prentice Powell.
To complicate matters more, there is a generational mistrust of the medical and mental health care systems. It is not unfounded, as Samuel Cartwright, an antebellum American physician, floated around the idea that the desire for freedom from American slavery was a “mental illness” he called “drapetomania.”
The ubiquity of racism, coupled with the painful silence it requires to survive it, is killing us and any chance of addressing the real issues. We need to talk about the societal causes for deep disappointment, despair, detachment and disconnection.
“I’m heartbroken. tWitch was pure love and light,” Ellen DeGeneres wrote on Instagram. How then could anyone see this coming?
Boss rose to fame on MTV’s “The Wade Robson Project,” but he became a household name for his performances on “So You Think You Can Dance” where he finished in second place in 2008. This year, Boss returned as a judge.
He became a well-known television personality on “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” first as a guest DJ before taking on a permanent role. He was a beloved fixture of the show, which he would go on to co-executive produce.
At 40 years old, the Montgomery, Alabama, native died by suicide in a “hotel/motel” room in Los Angeles. The beloved dancer was found dead after his wife Allison Holker reported him missing, describing his behavior as “out of character.” He had left unexpectedly and wasn’t returning phone calls, she told police.
They had recently celebrated their ninth wedding anniversary and persons are pointing to his last post on TikTok in which he is dancing and smiling. “He looked so happy” is a frequent response.
“He was so sweet, kind and generous,” Jada Pinkett Smith wrote on Instagram, paying tribute to Boss, whom she worked with in 2015 in Magic Mike XXL. “So many people suffer in silence. I wish he could have known that he didn’t have to.”
But there is a side of suicidal ideation that persons don’t want to hear: the possibility of relief.
Perhaps, it is because we do not center the voice of the person experiencing it and quickly dismiss what they’re feeling. We make promises of a better tomorrow and tell them to think about their family.
Having experienced suicidal ideation, I have mixed feelings about Boss’s death. I grieve along with his family, friends and supporters, but I also don’t blame him for not talking about it.
Director of The Raceless Gospel Initiative, associate editor, and host of the Good Faith Media podcast “The Raceless Gospel.”