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WUWM's Teran Powell reports on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

After conquering suicidal thoughts, Milwaukee woman says she's a listening ear for others

Young african american woman sitting on the floor at home depressed and worry for distress, crying angry and afraid. Sad expression.
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The number of Black children who die by suicide has been growing faster than other racial and ethnic groups.

The number of Black children who die by suicide has been growing faster than other racial and ethnic groups. In 2019, the Emergency Task Force on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health reported that Black youth under 13 years old are twice as likely to die by suicide.

Milwaukeean Amaii Collins describes herself as a mom, a nurse and a suicide survivor. She first had thoughts of suicide when she was a junior in high school.

"It started as a feeling of depression — not really knowing what was going on with me, not really know who I was or who I wanted to be, and getting absorbed in what people thought I should have been, or how pretty people thought I should be, or just being judged or verbally bullied by people," she explains.

Collins says those thoughts started to overpower any positivity she had in her life. She became closed off and wasn't spending time with her friends. She says she was just working to pass the time.

Collins says the people around her noticed she was different. "They noticed the change in me laughing, smiling."

That was something Collins says she always did. Having a good laugh is important to her. She wasn't talking about how her days were going, and that's something she always did with her dad.

"But they weren't really sure what it was," Collins says. "And for the simple fact that I was not sharing anything about what it was, it made it even harder for them to understand what it was. But some of their approaches also made it harder."

Collins categorized the approach people took to try and address her mental health as rough.

With her friends, she says they assumed she was pushing them away without explanation. The adults thought she was going through a phase and that she'd be OK eventually.

Collins says those types of responses worsened how she felt. "As real and as blunt as that may seem, it did make it worse because it caused me to be more guarded in, you know, what the problem really was or try to even understand what the problem was with other people. It made me not want to share feelings; it made me extremely closed off because the approach was, it was rough. A non-open approach at any capacity will cause an individual to be guarded," she explains.

Collins says she doesn't blame them because they didn't know how to handle the situation, but says the approach could have been more sensitive.

Collins was never officially diagnosed, but she did try therapy. She also described that process as rough. "It was almost kind of talked about as senioritis or something I could just solve by simple techniques."

Collins says her experience as a Black girl trying to get mental health guidance could point to how Black girls in general get treated when they have mental health concerns.

"With Black girls, it’s this stigma it has something to do with the friends we’re choosing, or it has something to do with what we choose to spend our time on, or you know men or boys or you know whatever it may be," Collins says. "But it's also that serious because a lot of the times it's coming from past trauma, it's coming from subsequent thoughts, watching other people and getting absorbed in what other people think, and, you know, more people being attracted to this or going towards that."

Collins says with Black girls, the attention is always given too late because people initially think its something small.

But she says she gets a sense of peace talking about her mental health and her experience with suicide. She says it's comforting, and she has gratitude for the opportunity to be able to relate to people and show that they have a listening ear with her.

Collins says she beat the suicidal thoughts. "I'm not saying that it won't happen again. But I don't — they don't ever cross my mind anymore. I do still have a lot of depressed thoughts at times, but they don't manifest into suicidal ones anymore because of I would say my mental approach to those things."


Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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