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Suicide: Out of the darkness
It was seven years ago, David Threatt recalls, on July 19, 2003 to be exact.
David Threatt (left) says that if he had succeeded in his suicide attempt, he would not be here for his children, Genesis (middle), now 8 and Isaiah, now 12. (Photo courtesy of David Threatt)
“I had just turned 30,” Threatt remembered. “That’s the end of the world at 30.”
He said he was disappointed in himself and had higher expectations than he had achieved. He began to pull away from friends.
Looking back, Threatt, now 37, recognizes that he was depressed and had been for a while, but did not realize the seriousness of his problem.
He admits he did not plan on dying that day. “It wasn’t anything I thought about,” he said. “Even then I didn’t think that was how the day would end. “I just wanted to go to sleep.”
As is the case with many African Americans, Threatt never received treatment for his depression.
Sean Joe, Ph.D., LMSW, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, focuses his research on suicide among blacks.
Joe cautions that growing up in America is different now. “There is more acceptance of suicide if life is bad,” he said. “Attitudes are different. We are becoming one America.”
This is a change in the once highly held theory that blacks were able to cope even under the most dire situations. “Resilience has been part of the black experience,” Joe said.
The role of faith was prominent. Suicide was taboo.
But younger blacks might not have that sense of belonging and strength. “Young blacks blame themselves when things go wrong,” said Joe. “They think things happen because of them.”
Experts have offered a range of theories on the increased risk of suicide among black males ages 15 to 24. Increased access to guns and prescription drugs are two of them, as is the higher incidence of psychiatric disorders.
Dr. Alvin F. Pouissaint, a child psychiatrist and director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children’s Center, co-authored a book on black suicide with journalist Amy Alexander.
Sean Joe, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.
Associate Professor of Social Work
Director, Emerging Scholars Interdisciplinary Network
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
For Threatt, things fell apart after one night of drinking and smoking marijuana. “I got into a paranoid state,” he said. “I was anxious and confused. I couldn’t figure out what was going on.”
His unintelligible telephone calls to friends prompted them to check on him and eventually call his mother. She came and never left his side. She even accompanied him to work the next day, which only escalated his paranoia.
“Why is she here?” he wondered aloud, giving voice to some grand conspiracy against him.
That is when his mother insisted that he return to her house.
And that’s where it started.
Threatt could not sit still and paced back and forth despite his mother’s pleas for him to sleep. Instead of helping, those words — and in particular the use of the word “sleep” — triggered his self-destruction.
His thoughts turned to his grandfather who had recently died in his sleep. “It seemed so peaceful,” Threatt thought. “No pain, no suffering. You just don’t wake up.”
Panicked, he took a bottle of over-the-counter drugs. His mother — unaware of his overdose — offered him some sleeping pills. He took them. Thirty minutes later, he was still walking around.
He found a bottle of prescription drugs that he downed. “I have no idea what they were,” he said.
And then, according to Threatt, two miracles happened that saved his life.
The first was the voice of his uncle, a minister he greatly admired. His uncle had come by, at the request of his mother, to offer counsel and support.
Threatt admitted that, in spite of his self-destructive behavior, he is a religious man. He instinctively dropped the bottle at the sound of his uncle’s voice.
After the talk, Threatt finally slept, but when his mother could not rouse him, she found the empty bottle on the floor and called 911.
Unknown to Threatt at the time, another miracle was in the works. According to Threatt, the prescription drugs he took countered the impact of the over-the-counter drugs. “Those pills saved my life,” he said. “It was like I took an antidote.”
Threatt has never looked back. He counts each day as a blessing. “Everyday I find something that I would have missed if I hadn’t been here,” he said. “Every new person I meet, every new experience is a blessing.”
His business has taken off. His beauty shop, The Hair Cafe, has doubled in size. He is about to expand to a second location.
Thinking back, Threatt says he realizes suicide is not the answer — no matter how bad it gets. “You cannot give up,” he said. “You really do not know what the next day holds.”
He recognizes that the new day might be even worse, but you never know he said. “You need to stay strong and get self-discipline.”
Threatt is actively involved in the New York-based American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide.
He participates in the group’s Out of the Darkness Overnight, a walk to create awareness about suicide and raise funds to help save lives through research and education.
Threatt still marvels that he is here to tell his story.
“It’s a miracle and a blessing,” he said.