Stop the Silence
Arlan Hamiltion is a Black queer woman, known mostly for being a venture capitalist and a champion for equity and inclusion in Silicon Valley. A few weeks ago, I was reading her book, It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage. In the book, Arlan chronicles her life story and road to professional success through perseverance and resilience. With great candor she walks you through how she went from being on food stamps and without a formal higher education, to being an accomplished entrepreneur and on the cover of Fast Company, a monthly American business magazine.
One of the many anecdotes included in the text that struck me was about her relationship with social media. As her notoriety began to increase, she made a conscious decision that she would share just as many low moments as high moments on her social media. An impactful small gesture in a much bigger conversation at play in today’s world.
As a public figure, she doesn’t want to overshare through her book or her social media, but she wants people to know that she is experiencing life in the same way as everyone else. She does not want others to think that she has or is living a perfect life devoid of obstacles, setbacks, depression, and challenges. No one’s life is always sunshine and flowers, and sometimes it helps those in your trusted circle of friends and family to know that they’re not alone facing the rain and the mud. In fact, knowing that you’ve experienced what they’re going through can be the reminder they need that after the storm, they’ll see the sun and flowers again.
I knew two gay men who committed suicide in 2021. The ways in which their friends and family responded to their deaths were in stark contrast. In one situation, there were lots of whispers about cause of death. No one ever wanted to confirm. In the other, the family of the grieved not only made the cause of death public, they also encouraged others who might be experiencing mental health challenges or having suicidal thoughts to seek help and provided a phone number and a resource website in the obituary. They didn’t want his death to be in vain.
Anxiety, depression, and suicide in our community do not cease to exist just because we don’t talk about them. It is very much the contrary; silence around anxiety, depression, and suicide increase and intensify their existence in our community when we don’t talk about them.
When we pretend to have perfect lives and don’t promote conversations and safe spaces for people to share their truth, or proactively welcome their truth, we do ourselves and our community a disservice. Often, we hear the old adage, “be kind to others because you never know what someone else is going through.” That is true but those words just can’t be thrown around like politicians’ use of “thoughts and prayers” after another incident of gun violence in our country. We clearly need more than just thoughts and prayers.
We do need to be kind to others and to ourselves. We can do that by practicing validation and empathy with people we encounter and not just brushing off their feelings. We can model to others in words and actions that mental health is important and that there is no shame in seeking professional and spiritual help and guidance. Talking openly and honestly about mental health may shine the light on a pathway to assistance that someone you care about needs. Sometimes it doesn’t end with just a conversation though. If you want them to ‘do the work,’ you may have to step in and do some work too.
I’ve helped friends search the internet, read reviews, and seek referrals to find therapists and coaches that would be informed and inclusive providers and within their budget. Price can be a serious barrier. In the past I’ve even offered to go with one of my friends to his first appointment. Starting and staying in care can be overwhelming for individuals. Having the support of others can mean so much. We can stop the silence and support each other.
If you know someone in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential. ▼
Clarence J. Fluker is a public affairs and social impact strategist. Since 2008, he’s also been a contributing writer for Swerv, a lifestyle periodical celebrating African American LGBTQ+ culture and community. Follow him on Twitter: @CJFluker or Instagram: @Mr_CJFluker