‘Bryce, you have to dig within and fight these demons that you’re fighting,’ said Shibbon Winelle Bryce Gowdy’s mother in a Facebook post after discovering her son was struck by a freight train at 4 a.m. on Monday, December 31, 2019. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office ruled his death as a suicide.
Bryce Gowdy was a 17-year-old high school graduate who had dreams of becoming famous, according to his uncle, Thomas Gowdy. Gowdy was awarded a football scholarship to Georgia Tech and planning to enroll in school in a few days.
Gowdy’s family has been homeless and staying in hotels for nearly six months. In Winelle’s Facebook post, she stated that Gowdy has been acting strange, “talking in circles” and asking questions about life, God, and spirituality just days before his suicide. He also wanted to know if mom and siblings would be okay in his absence. She sent him to get a blanket from the car and did not think it would be the last time she saw her son. She said, 'he was happy for his future but he couldn’t shake the difficulty of his family’s circumstances.' Family members stated that he felt a lot of pressure as the oldest sibling.
“He always seemed easygoing, easy to get along with,” Dave Brousseau, a Deerfield Beach alumnus who now mentors some of the Bucks players, told the Sentinel. “He was one of the leaders of the team. He was one of the guys who, when they were getting ready pre-game, he was always getting them fired up. So you got the indication he was clearly one of the leaders on the team.”
In his final tweet, posted a day before his death, Bryce Gowdy wrote, “Family matters, can’t wait to get to the ATL soon!”
As a suicide survivor and the oldest of five brothers, Bryce’s story brought me to tears, and my heart aches for my community. I was diagnosed with major depressive and generalized anxiety disorders five years ago. I started struggling with suicidal thoughts at just 12-years-old.
Increase of suicides among Black children
Unfortunately, Gowdy’s story is the story of many black children, such as my 14-year-old cousin Nah’Jaron Holmes, 8-year-old Imani McCray, 8-year-old Gabriel Taye, and 10-year-old Ashawnty Davis, who all died by suicide. The rate of suicide attempts among black children and teens has increased, according to the “Trends of Suicidal Behaviors Among High School Students in the United States: 1991-2017,” study published by the journal Pediatrics. An article by CBS mentioned self-reported suicide attempts for black adolescents rose by 73% between 1991 to 2017. In comparison, self-reported suicide attempts for white adolescents fell by 7.5% over the same period. These findings are based on data from nearly 200,000 high school students from the nationally representative Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Many African Americans believe that prayer is all one needs to cure mental illness such as depression and view suicide as a “white thing” or sign of weakness. When the truth is that Blacks are dealing with generational trauma 一 trauma from slavery and the Jim Crow era, whether we realize it or not. Unhealthy behavior patterns and thinking continues to be passed down from generation to generation. Previous generations did not have the resources or time to heal and focus on mental health. Their focus was on surviving from day-to-day. The church was a form of therapy, and how many of my ancestors made it through tumultuous times. Distressing, uncontrollable, stressful or traumatic events such as homelessness increases one’s risk for developing depression, an anxiety disorder and suicide. Individuals who had a previous attempt, a loved one die by suicide, or organized plan are at a higher risk for suicide.
I have made it a part of my mission to educate my community by sharing my story in my memoir, Saved & Depressed: A Suicide Survivor Journey of Mental Health, Healing & Faith, at conferences and my podcast. I want them to know that it is okay to pray and go to therapy. Seeking mental health treatment does not mean one lacks faith in God.
The question remains.
What can we do?
The answer is not simple, but if each person does something, it can begin to have a ripple effect on our community. Become certified in mental health first aid 一 a course that I offer in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area. You can also visit the Mental Health First Aid website to find training in your area so that you can provide adequate support to someone experiencing a mental health crisis and consider becoming an instructor in your community.
Common myths include asking someone about suicide will put the idea in a person’s mind, and the person who talks about suicide is not serious. However, talking about suicide may be a way for the person to indicate how they are feeling.
We need culturally aware mental health professionals to understand the black experience in America is different than people who are not of color. We battle microaggressions and have an entire system and country working against us. As previously stated, we are still dealing with the trauma of slavery and segregation and it must be acknowledged. There is a need for more clinicians of color, better mental health treatment in low-income communities, and education in schools on mental health, wellness and self-care.
Know the signs of suicide
In many cases, there are warning signs of suicide such as the following:
Threatening to hurt or kill oneself
Seeking access to means
Talking, writing or posting on social media about death, dying or suicide
Feeling worthless or a lack of purpose
Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities
Increasing alcohol or drug use
Withdrawing from family, friends or society
Demonstrating rage and anger or seeking revenge
Having a dramatic change in mood
How to help a loved one who is suicidal?
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the Crisis Textline for help in the United States. You can also click here to find a therapist or a support group in your area.
If you would like to make a donation to support Gowdy’s family, please visit his family’s GoFundMe page.