For the past 34 days, water and an occasional glass of juice have been the only source of sustenance for Chicago theater artist Wendell Tucker.
After two failed suicide attempts and a subsequent diagnosis of major depressive disorder last year, the 31-year-old set out to create "Wendell Tucker Hates The World," a one-man show based on his own struggles with the illness.
Tucker and his theater company, Theori Stages, recently wrapped a successful six-show run in Chicago and are currently 34 days in to his latest effort -- a 40-day fast and Indiegogo campaign aimed at raising awareness about mental illness in the black community, and $5,000 to take his show on the road.
“We were looking for something that would make an impact,” he told The Huffington Post.
On day 33 of what Tucker has called "The Hunger Aims," the importance of his mission became even more apparent.
According to the New York Daily News, hip-hop mogul Chris Lighty died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, arousing new discussions on mental wellness and health in the black community. That discussion included comments from actor Malik Yoba, such as the following tweet:
Yet still, Tucker’s show has received a number of negative reactions, including cynical tweets and skeptical critiques.
“We had a few people who just didn’t agree,” he said. “They felt that, as black men, we didn’t suffer from depression or any of that -- that it was just an excuse to be lazy and not take responsibility for our situations in the world.”
“Now you have Chris Lighty, one of the most brilliant minds in hip-hop,” said Tucker. “It's like, whoa, okay this may be real.”
Not just real, but common.
Suicide is the third most common cause of death among African-American males between 15 and 24 years old, behind homicide and accidents, according to the American Association of Suicidology (AAS).
AAS statistics also show that African-American men are five times more likely to commit suicide than African-American women. And as a group, African Americans are more likely to experience a mental disorder than their white counterparts and less likely to seek treatment.
“It’s amazing that people you would never even expect, they’ve been depressed, they’ve also been admitted to inpatient therapy,” said Tucker, who called the suicide hotline one fateful night before deciding to go to the emergency room.
Not even Tucker's family knew about his diagnosis until they attended his show one year later.
“There’s all these people hurting,” he said. “They’ve been told to pray on it or 'Man up. You can’t be depressed. Depression is for white women.’ Everything except for ‘Okay, maybe you should go get therapy.’”
Earlier this year,Dr. Wizdom Powell Hammond, a UNC Chapel Hill professor and researcher, published the results of a seven-year study showing the benefits of African-American men openly discussing their stress when battling depression and suicidal tendencies.
“We can’t tell black men not to express their anger,” Hammond said in a recent interview with EBONY.com. “Anger is a legitimate emotion. To not express it when it’s an appropriate response is, to me, problematic. We also have to be comfortable with the full range of emotions, to [accept that] anger is not the only response black men have to racism. They feel shame, they feel sad, the feel upset.”
With $4,100 to go, Tucker has eight days left to reach his fundraising goal. But regardless of whether or not he hits the target, he plans to continue spreading awareness through theatre, particularly in his own Chicago community, where he says 10 welfare centers and mental facilities have been closed during “one of the deadliest years ever.”
“We’re going to keep going,” Tucker said. “By no means is that going to be the death of it.”
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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Realize Treatment Is Key
Depression is a medical condition requiring medical care. As a family member or friend, you can listen to the person and give your support, but that might not be enough. If you keep this in mind, it can prevent you from losing patience or getting frustrated with them because your best efforts don't "cure" their depression. "People that are depressed can't sleep it off; they can't avoid it," says Gollan. "You can give care and support, but it's not going to solve the problem." More From Health.com: <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20393228_1,00.html" target="_hplink">10 Things to Say (and 10 Not to Say) to Someone With Depression</a> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20189154,00.html" target="_hplink">5 Depression Relapse Triggers to Watch For</a> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20428707,00.html" target="_hplink">Why Your Job Is Making You Depressed</a>
Stay In Contact
Call or visit the person and invite her or him to join you in daily activities. People who are depressed may become isolated because they don't want to "bother" other people. You may need to work extra hard to support and engage someone who's depressed. "Activities that promote a sense of accomplishment, reward, or pleasure are directly helpful in improving depression," says Gollan. "Choose something that the person finds interesting." Still, keep in mind that they may not feel interested in the activity right away. Routines that promote exercise, nutrition, and a healthy amount of sleep are helpful.
Talk About It
Let them know that you and others care about them and are available for support. Offer to drive them to treatment or, if they want to talk to you about how they're feeling, know what to listen for. "This can reduce risk of suicide," says Gollan. "Listen carefully for signs of hopelessness and pessimism, and don't be afraid to call a treatment provider for help or even take them to the ER if their safety is in question."
Get Active In Their Care
The best thing you can do for someone with depression is support his or her treatment. Tell your friend or loved one that depression is a medical problem and ignoring it will not make it go away. "If someone breaks their leg, they are taken to a doctor or hospital," says Gollan. "If someone has depression, they need medical care and psychosocial support."
Focus On Small Goals
A depressed person may ask, "Why bother? Why should I get out of bed today?" You can help answer these questions and offer positive reinforcement. "Depressive avoidance and passivity can be reduced through activation [to help the person regain a sense of reward] and small goals of accomplishment," says Gollan. Document and praise small, daily achievements -- even something as simple as getting out of bed.
Read All About It
Books about depression can be useful, especially when they are reliable sources of advice or guidance that's known to help people with depression. Books can often shed light on the types of treatment available. Gollan recommends books like "The Feeling Good Handbook", "Mind Over Mood", and "Overcoming Depression One Step at a Time". "Blogs are pretty risky," she says, "unless you are sure the sources are reliable."
Find Local Services
Use support services in your community or online resources such as National Alliance on Mental Illness to help you find the right specialists to consult on depression treatment. A primary-care physician or an OBGYN can also provide referrals for a psychiatrist. Some people with depression may not recognize that they're depressed. Explain to them that the condition can get progressively worse, even become chronic, if not treated early. Hence, it's worth investigating supportive services and specialists.
Encourage Doctor Visits
Encourage the person to visit a physician or psychologist; take medications as prescribed; and participate in cognitive behavioral therapy for depression. Gollan suggests checking the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or the American Psychological Association to locate psychologists and medical centers' psychiatry departments.
If someone you love has been depressed in the past, pay attention if the person is experiencing some of the riskier life phases (in terms of depression), such as adolescence or a recent childbirth. Also, if the going is rough for him or her emotionally due to marital separation, divorce, job loss, a death in the family, or other serious stress, be ready to step in to help. More From Health.com: <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20393228_1,00.html" target="_hplink">10 Things to Say (and 10 Not to Say) to Someone With Depression</a> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20189154,00.html" target="_hplink">5 Depression Relapse Triggers to Watch For</a> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20428707,00.html" target="_hplink">Why Your Job Is Making You Depressed</a>