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The unthinkable happened weeks before the pandemic broke in early March 2020 for La Toya Bond who learned of the murder-suicide of her stepmother and father.
“There were parts of him that were known to only him like the struggles and the depression and the secret battles,” the St. Clair Shores resident said of her father, Herman McKalpain, 66, who ended his life after taking the life of his wife, Elizabeth McKalpain, 67, in their home in Sterling Heights. “By all appearances, he seemed happy.…We were all shocked when this happened. Nobody saw this coming.”
Bond, a suicide awareness advocate (and host of a podcast show in honor of her late father), told the Michigan Chronicle that she has learned so much about the topic of suicide and she participates in a suicide loss survivors’ support group through the non-profit organization, Kevin’s Song.
Bond’s father, a former sports radio show host on WGPR in Detroit, lives on in a sense through her podcast, “Speaking of Love.”
“I always say that my podcast is my therapy…and I do this because this was something that he loved…. So having this podcast, in essence, it’s like I’m walking in his gift.…There’s a lot of stigma behind suicide and my purpose is to erase that stigma.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2019 was suicide, claiming more than 47,500 people. Also, there were about two and a half times as many suicides in the United States as there were homicides (19,141) that year.
The CDC added that suicide was the “second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44.”
E’yandra Otis, a Detroit resident, nearly committed suicide in 2016 after experiencing emotional turmoil and the loss of numerous family members and friends.
“I spent so much time in the funeral home I felt that I worked there,” Otis told the Michigan Chronicle previously about cousins and friends of his who tragically died. “It was a lot — a long year.”
Around the world, more than 700,000 people die by suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organization, which reports that for each adult who passed away from suicide, there might have been over 20 others attempting suicide.
While mental health is becoming more widely discussed in the Black community, discussions about suicide remain taboo.
Every year, however, over 700,000 people commit suicide. In 2019, African American populations experienced a 7 percent suicide rate, while risk factors for suicide remain consistent across race and gender.
For Otis, having conversations and seeking mental help helped him out of his downward spiral of emotions also stemming from family troubles, financial hardships and more.
Otis, who almost ended things with some alcohol and pills, said he finally came to that life-changing day five years ago and is glad he did.
“I used to be a person that holds a lot of things in,” he said. “Now if I’m getting to a point where I feel like I need to talk to or call somebody I don’t have a problem asking for help.”
Dr. L.A. Barlow, a clinical psychologist with the Detroit Medical Center, told the Michigan Chronicle that with the pandemic and its variants still ongoing (and social isolation still a thing), continuing to work on your mental health is not something to look down upon, especially in the Black community.
“Culturally a lot of times in our community we were raised to say, ‘Family business stays in the household,’” she said, adding that these things need to be talked about. “Mental healthcare and mental well-being [don’t] discriminate no matter race. Why should we not get the help?”
Dr. Carmen McIntyre, chief medical officer at the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, is a big proponent of addressing mental health and has previously discussed with the Michigan Chronicle what are the warning signs for suicide.
“Some risks that increase the likelihood of suicide include major depressive episode; substance use or abuse, such as alcohol or cocaine; divorce or widowhood; recent loss [such as losing a job, or a loved one]; physical illness and chronic pain,” she said, adding that it is important to look for signs of depression as this has the “greatest correlation” with suicide attempts.
“Depression doesn’t look the same for everyone, but some hints are feeling sad, or being agitated and angry [especially in children and adolescents]; changes in sleep and appetite; loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed such as spending time with friends or playing sports; difficulty with concentration or memory; feelings of guilt or worthlessness; and fatigue or decreased energy,” she said.
Warning signs of suicide include:
- Talking about death, wanting to die, or wanting to kill oneself.
- Talking about feeling helpless, hopeless, having no reason to live, or being a burden on others.
- Increasingly reckless behavior, including the use of alcohol or drugs.
- Becoming more withdrawn or feeling isolated.
- Feeling enraged or talking about getting revenge.
- Loss of interest in the things one cares about.
- Making arrangements or setting one’s affairs in order, including giving away one’s possessions, or saying goodbye to people.
- Finally, suddenly seeming happier or calmer. This is because the person has made the choice to die and has a sense of relief that their suffering will soon end.
Bond said that individuals who feel suicidal should reach out for help and not be afraid.
“And just know that you are loved and you are here on this earth for a divine purpose,” Bond said, adding that everyone was born with a gift, talent or something that they could offer to the world. “So, for my dad, for example, his gift to the world was his heart. He had a big heart. And he was a great dynamic public speaker.…The next person may be like Patti LaBelle.… It doesn’t matter how small or how big…we have our own unique gifts that we bring to the world.”
If someone needs immediate help, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.