Suicide In The Black Community


In the last six months, we have had two known figures in our community commit what many view as “the last option”. The figures I’m speaking on are former Disney actor Lee Thompson Young and former San Diego Chargers defensive back Paul Oliver. On the surface, one would think that they’re both in high pressure fields of entertainment and maybe that’s what got to them. Just a month ago, a childhood friend of mine also committed suicide. We had both just graduated from college in December and  reached a level of success that most people only dream about. The question arises about what makes someone feel like there is no other way but to end it all. While we can attribute stress and dealing with the problems of every day life to the equation, I feel like it is deeper than that.

Let me state the facts so you all can be informed on the issue at hand. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide ranks as the third leading cause of death in African-American males between the ages of 15-24. The first two leading causes would be homicide and accidents. On the contrary, in 2010 it was found that black women had the lowest suicide rate in the country with less than 3 suicides per 100,000. I personally feel like that’s because black women are taught to be stronger at a very young age by their mothers, whereas most black males don’t have that father figure to do the same for them. It’s been reported that African-Americans are 30% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Caucasians, but Caucasians are more than twice as likely to receive anti-depressant prescription treatments as Blacks.  I don’t want to seem like I’m choosing sides based simply on my race, but peep game.

Your poverty level and economic issues have a LOT to do with your mental health. African-American’s are more likely to be below the poverty line than white people. With that said it makes sense that African American’s would have more mental health issues, but yet and still, white people are TWICE as likely to receive anti-depressant prescription treatments. It seems to me that we’re ignored and pushed to the side when it comes to dealing with our mental health issues. It’s almost as if we’re just supposed to sit here and deal with them. Another fact that caught my attention was about the increase in the African-American suicide rate: from 1980 to 1995, the black rate increased 233%. What’s going on in our community?

Though I feel that suicide is always a personal choice for an individual, I do believe that there are external factors that contribute to the cause. When I sat back and thought about it, I came up with many factors. Upon the death of Lee Thompson Young, I asked a number of my colleagues and friends this question: “Why do we, as members of the Black community, hide mental health issues and brush them off as “the Devil’s got to them” or other B.S. cover up?”  The answers that I got were astounding.

Some people said that we’d rather just “whoop” mental issues away. For instance, let’s think about black kids suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They are labeled as “the trouble kids” and they are punished without them ever really being diagnosed. Some parents are so afraid of there being “something mentally wrong” with their child that they brush off their misbehavior as just that.  When I was a child, I would constantly act out and my mother actually went the distance to make sure that I got treatment for what she was told was ADHD. As I got older, I stopped taking the medicine. During my college years, I was diagnosed with type II Bipolar Disorder.  Upon my research on the disorder, I discovered that sometimes Bipolar Disorder in children is misdiagnosed as ADHD. I say all that to say, you have to be willing to see what’s going on with your child. You could be saving their lives.

Another answer that I received was that Black people have this “what happens in the House, stays in the House” mentality when it comes to expressing pain, mental health disorders, etc. This answer really sparked my attention. I’ve noticed that when certain things go on in our households as kids e.g. rape, financial strain, or even molestation, we’re not supposed to say anything. We’re supposed to just let it happen. We’ve been conditioned as Black people to go through things and just deal with it. NO! We’re not emotionless super humans. We are people too! We have feelings, emotions, pains, and nothing should rob us of that fact and reality. Why go through something alone when you don’t have to? It’s so odd to me.

The last answer that caught my eye was found during my research. In a report done this year, Pastor Robert Angel of Milwaukee’s Redemption Fellowship Church mentioned that the reason for the rise in African American suicide is a sense of hopelessness. He mentions that “it’s a lot of hopelessness in our community,” he said, “and these men feel that they have no place to turn and no one to talk to.” His answer made me think about how suicide is still a strange topic to bring up in the Black community.  If you feel that way then you pray about it and God will fix it. But what happens when he doesn’t? What happens when a man still feels that way? Is he not praying enough? Is his faith not deep enough? Too many members of the Black community, especially the elders, try to brush off mental issues with religious tinted answers. That’s not always the best decision. The reason I say that is because sometimes we need somebody that is physically there, that can talk to us, help us vent and bounce ideas with; we need somebody that can tell us it’s going to be ok and not to let our minds go there.

I think we need to start being more open about these things. We keep sitting back and watching our brothers, celebrities, and etc. end their lives abruptly. We grieve about them and we scream “WHY?”, but we’re not willing to work on a solution. There should be more programs dedicated to helping those with suicidal thoughts out. Let’s leave out race for the moment. Suicide, mental health issues, and the prevention and treatment of them both are things that we should be working on cutting down. If you are ever feeling suicidal and need someone to talk to, please contact the National Suicide Prevention LifelineIt does not have to be the last option if you don’t allow it to be. Never make a permanent decision about a temporary problem. Hopefully this can be a sign for somebody looking for one. 

– Amarii (@AmariiDavu)