Commentary: Why Audra McDonald Opening Up About Her Suicide Attempt Matters

We need more Black celebrities talking about mental health. 

Posted: 07/30/2014 12:48 PM EDT

Whether she is winning a Tony Award (she has six to her name), belting her heart out on Broadway as Billie Holiday or gracing the small screen, actress and singer Audra McDonald has always been the symbol of strength.

But recently, McDonald opened up and admitted that she, too, suffered from depression and mental health issues while attending college at the prestigious Juilliard School. On ABC’s Popcorn With Peter Travers, she said that she even tried to commit suicide by slitting her wrists.

She credited Juilliard for helping her get the services she so desperately needed. They also welcomed her with opened arms when she was ready to come back to school. "When someone is suicidal, one of the first things you have to do is to protect them from themselves," she said. "They had a mental health facilitator there, a therapist there and they checked me into a mental health hospital where I was for a month and got me the help I needed."

Obviously, when it comes to mental health, Audra McDonald isn’t alone.

It’s estimated that Black women are more likely to try to commit suicide than males among all races. Not to mention, suicide rates are going up among people aged 15-24, with it being the number three cause of death.

And even though depression is part of our reality, as Black women we often try to bury it, ignore it or believe we can pray it away. There is this huge pressure to maintain this strong Black woman façade and depression doesn’t fit into it.

This is why McDonald’s confession about her struggles with depression and self-harm matter. Stories like hers and others, such as American Idol star Fantasia Barrino, Destiny’s Child Michelle Williams and tennis great Serena Williams, all help to break down the walls of stigma and put a face to this disease.

But most important, it allows for us to see that mental health issues are not just a white person’s problem. It’s a problem that too many Black women continue to suffer in silence. But hopefully McDonald’s act of courage can help more of us come into the light. 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.



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(Photo: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

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