For Colored Girls Who Have Attempted Suicide: A Practical Theology of Black Women's Mental Health

“Hearing and caring for Black women suicide attempt survivors in church and community. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Jessie Washington Emory University Contact Me

About this dissertation fellowship

The aim of my dissertation is to share the experiences of Black women suicide attempt survivors to bolster the Black church’s efforts to care holistically for its members and communities. Suicide among Black women remains under-researched and undertheorized such that effective suicide prevention strategies created for Black women are few and far between. What is known about Black women and suicide comes primarily from the field of psychology, which prioritizes cross-sectional studies and analysis of quantitative survey instruments. These studies offer thin descriptions of the experience of being a suicidal Black woman. Such research is of limited utility for practical theology, which finds its ethos in understanding lived experience as it relates to matters of ultimate concern. By thickening descriptions of Black women’s encounters with suicidality, my dissertation seeks to fill a gap in knowledge about Black suicidal women and address the related lack of adequate mental health and pastoral care.

The dissertation suggests that to prevent suicide among Black women, their stories should form the core of our data and the basis of analysis. To that end, the research involves a year of ethnographic fieldwork with a program that provides free therapeutic services for Black women, many of whom have attempted suicide. The centerpiece of the study is a digital storytelling project in which 8–10 participants tell the story of their experience with suicidality in a 2–5-minute video featuring a voiceover, video clips, photos, and music. Once the digital stories have been produced, the project will culminate in a public screening in which members of the larger community will be invited to bear witness to the stories created by the participants. The plan is then to theorize and theologize the impact of the storytelling process as well as the content of the videos themselves to develop recommendations for enhancing pastoral care with Black women with mental health concerns.