Psychologists Dr. Anissa Moody and Dr. Wendi S. Williams Weigh In On the Pressure for Black Women to ‘Keep It Together’

Karyn Washington, 22-Year-Old Blogger and Founder of For Brown Girls, Commits Suicide

She encouraged others to accept themselves, yet she may have expected too much of herself.  Though she was thoughtful and humble, she was bold and fierce in her activism successfully leading a national campaign to empower young Black women. In the midst of experiencing one of life’s cardinal heartbreaks, the death of her mother, she was nurturing the lives of others. She was strong. She was vulnerable.

These contradictions and remarkable achievements of blogger-activist Karyn Washington have been well-documented since her reported suicide last week at the tender age of 22.  Understandably, the most perplexing contradiction is that the young woman who wrote the uplifting words, “Obstacles… adversity has made me strong. Having things happen in my life that make me want to give up or doubt my abilities, and then getting through it is encouraging,” seemingly gave up on life.  It is appropriate that Washington’s suicide is stimulating conversation around race and mental illness. There is no denying that mental health stigma is just as debilitating as mental illness in the African American community. However, a discussion that fails to address how our beliefs, including our long-standing commitment to upholding the blood-stained banner of the Strong Black Woman (SBW), are figuratively and literally limiting our lives would be remiss and overly simplistic.


As the online eulogies pour in for Washington, it seems, she, like so many other public women who chose to end their lives, suffered not in silence but in plain sight.  As the post-script contradictions reveal, broken hearts and troubled minds are masked by fabulosity, “got-it-togetherness,” and Mammyism.  At the same time, the contradictions also unveiled deep judgment, specifically judgment about how our sisters experience and manage emotional and psychological struggles.

Karyn Washington’s suicide is sadly just one example of one of our best and brightest taking their own lives, or trying to or considering it.  Don Cornelius’ surprising fall, the deaths of Lee Thompson Young and popular Hampton grad Yusuf Neville and Fantasia Barrino’s very public attempt recently brought to light the fact that deep sadness and desperation often characterize a choice to end one’s life. Interestingly, the causes of suicide rest in not only the lives of the famous, but also are descriptive of the experiences of Black women across social class and the lifespan. Historically, suicide rates in the Black community were lower than Whites and other ethnic groups however, recent research has identified an increase in rates due to the tendency of the community to explain a suicide as an accidental death and/or even the result of homicide.

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Source: Ebony | Dr. Anissa Moody and Dr. Wendi S. Williams

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