Friday, August 31, 2012

Not Ready to die, but wanting to die: Depression, Hip Hop and the death of Chris Lighty

Not ready to die but wanting to die: Depression, Hip Hop and

the death of Chris Lighty

Disclaimer: No cause of death for Chris Lighty has been officially released.

“We need a very serious and healing discussion on depression for the Hip Hop generation. As one who suffers from depression myself, it breaks my heart to see those lose this very difficult and often lonely battle.”  8/30/12 my Facebook status after hearing of Chris Lighty’s death

Right now I should be finishing a paper for my independent study. But I just heard the news about Chris Lighty’s death. Though I never meet him, being part of the Hip Hop village, I always heard good things about him. Reading my sister, Joan Morgan’s, one word post on Facebook, "devastated", I broke down and thought, another possible suicide in our village.  Why is this happening? All of us living and breathing are dealing with a myriad of challenges, especially financial ones, so what is it that makes one want to kill themselves? And why is there so much silence in communities of color? We all grew up hearing about suicides, and for a long time I believed that only white kids killed themselves. When I was in high school, there was a rash of suicides that I heard about, read about. I would say to my friends, “white kids are crazy”, little did I know that I myself might have been a little bit "crazy".

It was not until 2005 that I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and depression.  I was 34 and after a very hard pregnancy, in which I suffered from a rare disease, hyper-emesis, along with postpartum depression, did I finally admit to myself that I had been suffering with depression since my mid-twenties and I desperately needed help.  Depression manifests itself in many ways.  For me, it manifested as manic episodes of high energy, no sleep, compulsive cleaning and bursts of anger. As I look back at my life I recall encounters in which I acted irrationally, impulsively and destructively, sometimes publicly. I recall episodes of manic states in which I would stay up for days, clean and write like a fiend. When the panic state ended I would shut down and isolate myself for days in my room and cry myself to sleep, thinking of death. In the subsequent 7 years since my diagnosis I have sought treatment that includes medications, talk therapy, acupuncture and tried more holistic techniques. I have great days and some very dark ones but I believe I am better and as I continue to live I have come to truly understand this disease. One of the hardest things was telling friends who would then tell me all the evils of these meds and urge me to drink this tea, do this exercise, eat this food or just go out and take a walk, it’s just the blues. As well-meaning as my friends were they just did not get it.  Too many times those of us who deal with issues of mental health are silenced, ignored or told, “everything will be all right”  “you’re strong” and often we want to scream back at them and say, “How do you know everything will be all right? I am sick of being strong!” When we hear that it makes us shut down even more and retreat into that corner. When we see that look in your eye we wish we never would have told you. No matter how many friends you have, how many people tell you they love you, these things do not cure depression. Some of us need medications, some of us cannot meditate or exercise our way out of it.  Most of us inherited this and because of the silence in our families we may never truly know the extent to which this is passed down. I worry every day that my daughter has inherited this from me. Every time she cry’s or shows signs of anxiety or stress I am terrified that my little girl has “the gene.”

I turned 40 this year and I told myself I would live my life in my truth. Every day I wake up and I know that as much as I want to have a great day the slip back into a depressive state lurks around the corner.  Unfortunately, so many do not have the information, the networks or the support systems I do. Damn, so many are not privileged enough to have health insurance that covers mental health services.  In one of my recent sessions with my therapist she reminded me that there is no cure for depression, there is living with depression.  Hip Hop and the larger community of Black and Brown, progressive, radical, social justice activists must figure out a way to begin a dialogue, to not just break the silence around depression, but to stop the shaming of those who suffer this disease. Often times I feel that if I had an ailment that was physical or one that people could actually see people that their hearts and minds would be more open to that disability then to my mental health disability.

            Today my silence stops. My shame ends. I am going to say the one thing you are never ever ever supposed to say; I wanted to die. Some of us reach this point, and it is the most frightening thing to say and feel. That day in April 2005, living in Brooklyn, I felt that feeling. The sick nauseating, head spinning, heart pounding feeling of wanting to die, visualizing how I would die and who would find me. As I lay on my bedroom floor ravaged with pain and tears, hoping to get the strength to walk to the 7 on Parkside and Prospect all I could feel is that soon this would be over, this monster inside of me would finally be gone and so would I. At the moment a bit of light broke through and I did the one thing so many cannot and do not do, I picked up the phone; I called my best friend who called my mother who called my aunt who called a friend who is a psychiatrist.  She stayed on the phone with me until my husband came home from work and the next morning I was in a doctor’s office.  Since that dark day in Brooklyn and until the day I am SUPPOSED to leave this world, I will be living with and battling this disease. 

As I said, I never meet Chris Lighty, but I keep imagining the movement he put that gun to his head, the pain and despair he must have felt is unfathomable. The thought of it makes me physically ill. As many write about his death, some will say he did not commit suicide, some will say that he showed no signs that he was depressed; some will blame his financial issues, some will be angry; some will ask themselves what could I have done and unfortunately, some will pass judgment and some will never be able to admit that he lost his fight. The despair he must have been in might not have been noticeable even to those closest to him. Maybe no one knew. That’s the thing about depression; it’s a disease that is often suffered in silence, alone, behind a closed door, in the corner of a dark closet, under the covers of a bed. I have often said that Hip Hop saved my life; now we need Hip Hop to do what it does best; tell the hard truth, bring people together to create the means to battle whatever ails us and try to save lives. For those of us in this Hip Hop village suffering from this wretched debilitating disease we must Break the Silence, we must Stop the Shame. We must do it for those that are still living and in remembrance of those like Chris who did all they could to survive but lost their battle to this demon.

Rosa Clemente is Hip Hop Scholar and Activist, 2008 Green Party Vice-Presidential Candidate. Currently she is a doctoral student in the W.E.B. Dubois department at UMASS-Amherst and can be reached on Facebook, Twitter @rosaclemente or via email at

Please share this letter with your networks, feel free to post and below are links to some great mental health resources that focus on people of color.



  1. Rosa, you inspire and move me once again. I have long admired your courage and conviction. You are a beautiful person, and the village is blessed to have you in our midst. Thank you for sharing of yourself, and shining light on darkness. I thought it was brilliant how you compassionately describe misguided efforts to help, and the double-edged sword of invoking "strength."

    Thank you also for the resources. While there is a long list of historical reasons to be distrusting of those in the mental health field, it's critical to realize that qualified, caring, and culturally-competent help is available - and pharmaceuticals can make a big difference, regardless of big pharma's business practices.

    It is a painful truth that some battles are much of the time fought alone. We can however conquer fear, shame and misinformation. We can open our hearts and minds to each other. For ourselves, for Chris, and far too many others.

    Big hugs and best wishes,
    Doug George

  2. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


  3. My 1st time reading your work. This is beautiful, the last 2 paragraphs especially powerful. The pain in the 1st 2 lines of the last paragraph made me cry in spite of myself.

    I love this "I have often said that Hip Hop saved my life; now we need Hip Hop to do what it does best; tell the hard truth, bring people together to create the means to battle whatever ails us and try to save lives."


  4. This has so long been an issue in our communities, the silence that's so heavy, that leaves people feeling ashamed and alone. Thank you for letting allies know what they can say and do that helps (not makes the situation worse; ie not all meds are bad). Thank you so much for sharing this.

  5. Rosa, I love you like another sister and you know this. I've been there myself, for real. Amongst all the things I am proud of you for, I am now not only happy but proud that you are just here today, that you choose to keep sharing this world with those of us that need you, because although I haven't seen you I don't doubt that I just need to message you that I need help or send word through Mari and you'll be there for me. Love you hermanita...

  6. Thank you for sharing your truth and I hope there are many other sufferers that come across your blog...a "real" story, and one that definitely needs to be talked about, especially among our coloured communities...Much love Rosa from Aotearoa

  7. Thank you for this article. A lot of times in black and brown religious communities people don't believe that people suffer from depression and deem the person suffering as ungrateful or not having faith. Mental health is not a faith issue. I applaud you for sharing your story and you give strength to those of us who are battling. That part about passing it, it was so close to home. Again, thank you Sis.

  8. i love you sis and you know this. got your back for life.

  9. thanks for bringing light to this topic.
    this might be interesting:

  10. Amazing how well your strong armor of strength can cover the pain... Be proud of your courage, most people don't have it. I admire you and love you. I wish if ever you feel depressed, you have the courage to call me so I can tell you all the beautiful things I see and admire in you. Ahora y Siempre hermana!

  11. Rosa, thank you for speaking out publicly about mental health issues in the Black and Brown community and your own personal struggles with bipolar disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts. It's so very important because although 1 in 4 Americans suffer from a mental illness at any given time (this includes African-American and Hispanic women and men), there is still a huge amount of stigma, shame and discrimination around the subject of mental illness; yes, even in 2012.

    Our blogger, Shawn Maxam, recently talked about not having a Black male role model when he was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder and how helpful it would have been to him.

    We need more people, like you and Shawn, to speak out and realize there is no shame in having an illness. Like any other illness, mental illness is nothing a person can or should be blamed for. When people share their personal mental health stories, more will realize they are not alone in their mental health struggles.

    Thank you,
    Amanda - Trusted Mental Health Information and Support


  12. Love spell came out tremendously, I highly recommending for whatever problems you are experiencing in your relationship. He also healed my husband from Bipolar disorder. his love spell is absolutely wonderful .
    Elizabeth kings, USA