The Church, Mental Illness & Suicide (R.I.P. Don Cornelious)


The stigma against mental illness, depression and suicide within the Black community tends to enforce fears and stereotypes that keep people from getting the help they need. Black people in general tend to be overly religious. Everything is a sin so how can you talk about it. The church sweeps stuff under the rug as though all problems can be prayed away. They can’t.

Everybody thinks that if they pray over you, slap you with some anointing oil or speak to some supposed demon you may have that solves the problem. No. Troubled Depressed people need professional help and should not be stigmatized for speaking up and speaking out.

The only difference between myself and Don Cornelious is that I did not succeed in any of my attempts. Mental illness runs in my family on both sides. My mother Mable Elizabeth Palmer tried to kill herself in front of we children sometime around 1969 or 1970. She just wanted the pain to end. Later when it was my turn I wanted the paid and suffering to end.

It’s sad that mental illness, depression and suicide are labeled as sins and those of us who suffer are ostracized by the community and the Black Church. Mental illness is often genetic triggered by puberty, a tragic event, a traumatic event or a chronic physical illness. However in the Black Church they still blame unseen devils and demons left over from the Dark Age. Any minute now I expect the church to return to the archaic methods used during these times to determine who was a witch or a warlock. It may sound funny but I’ve heard things come out preachers mouths that made you think mental illness is a concoction of best sellers and Hollywood movies.

Mental illness is an ongoing battle you fight every day. And every day you wake up in this world is a win but if you do wake up on the other side I believe it’s because God has mercy on troubled souls.

17 thoughts on “The Church, Mental Illness & Suicide (R.I.P. Don Cornelious)

  1. Everyone deserves the dignity of having their illness recognized for what it is and treated as an illness and not a sin. I’m sorry if your community sometimes has problems distinguishing one from the other.Your own illness has left you still able to communicate with the world through your excellent, imaginative and expressive writing.Mayhap you can bring the problem to the public eye and make changes so that those who still wake up suffering each day don’t walk round with the guilt of sin on their shoulders which may make their suicide attempts even worse for them and their loved ones.
    I wish you well on your journey and hope it becomes a long and pleasant one on Earth so you can delay waking up in the other place for many years.

    1. David,

      Thank you so much. I felt I had to speak out. Sometimes we have to reveal some unpleasant things about ourselves to serve others. To help those in the greatest need. I feel I’m like a prize fighter. I fall down, get knocked out sometimes, the ref says the ten count but I get back up, maybe retreat to my corner, regroup and fight the battle again.

      Grace & Peace,


  2. Hi DeBorah…thanks for visiting and leaving a footprint on my blog. I was drawn to this post as someone in my community took his life two days ago. I am so sorry for the sadness I read in this post…but I see a woman with great courage and compassion in you! May you be well…and continue to help others with your passion!! Many blessings to you… ❤

    1. Thank you. My hope and goal is for my writing to not just entertain but inform people. Even with my poetry and short stories I hope I touch somebody’s heart and my words resonate within their souls. Grace, Peace & Blessings to you!!

  3. Thank you for this post and more so the reference in black community as I know that the stigma there is rife be it in Africa or America. Also thank you for using personal experience as hopefully this will help us better to understand this illness less understood.

    It was my brother inlaw that has Bipolar and watching him over the years has really helped my understanding of mental health illness…still learning.

    1. Amen and Thank you! We all must come to understand mental illness as an illness not a character flaw. I have struggled with depression, anxiety and panic attacks for many years. For me help came through Buddhist meditation. I’m not knocking Christianity or medicine it’s just that we all must be open to helpful coping strategies. Only God can judge people and God knows that people with mental health challenges are suffering. We must learn not to condemn our fellow human beings. After all if that person had cancer or heart disease and they died that is seen in a different light. Government, churches, Houses of Worship & the community at large must come together to help our sisters and brothers who are dealing with mental health issues. Thanks again. God Bless.

    2. Dear Sister, when you get a chance please read my blogs on my struggles with prescription drug addiction. Thanks and Be Blessed. Alice’s Wonderland Deconstructed, Big Pharma — I’m Your Pusherman, and Pharmacia Cornucopia

  4. Yes, it is a shame. Mental health disorders, addictions and more. They’re all in my very religious family. When I was growing up my father (a preacher) taught us that we didn’t need counselors or experts. We needed God. Well, we do need God–who often comes to us through unexpected persons and ways. Not necessarily through the church or having people pray over us. Thanks for your straight talk about Black churches. I observed similar things when I was teaching at an urban seminary. I’m grateful for all local churches that have changed their ways. Sometimes it happened because the pastor (usually male) had the courage to get help for him or herself. None of us can make it alone. And no church of any kind can be all things to all people.

  5. bjsscribbles

    Mental illness carries the stigma, unfortunately some people seek help some don’t.. I found I could not do it alone even now. I still seek help my depression basically was caused by life in general. My writing helps me. Many times I thought about suicide but realised there is so much pain you would leave behind..I agree have God in our lives, but we also need help outside the church.

  6. Thanks for the ‘like’ on my post about my ignorance of autism. I am amazed by churches I have been to where what you describe is current. In Australia it is not as common as you decscribe but that is because Australia is nowhere near as ‘religious’. But we have a major problem with depression and suicide particularly amongst younger males. If you get a chance check out and also
    This isn’t just so I can increase my stats. It’s because I have made a connection with you.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Since I wrote that article I think things might be getting better due to exposure. Sadly more African-American athletes and entertainers have taken their own lives. Also when Robin Williams took his life I saw conversations on Facebook and other social networks bringing this problem out into the open. Now the church in America is a catalyst for social change. It was during the 1960s with Dr. Martin Luther King and it needs to re-assume that role. Since the church has a major standing in Black & Hispanic neighborhoods it has to rise up, learn the symptoms and get people the help they need to prevent suicide.

  7. Thanks for sharing this, DeBorah. I just wanted to let you know that I always enjoy reading your blog. Maybe you should write a book. No really. It takes lots of guts to post about your mental illness out in public. Kudos to you for doing that.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate your support and encouragement. I had written a previous blog post on my negative experiences in the mental health system but I had to delete that specific blog post due to trolls and haters. Wish that there were more good positive people like you. God bless you.

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