Thursday, December 18, 2014

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Black Men and Depression, Pt3: Suicide

Editor's Note:  Jamesgirl continues her series on Black Men and Depression with this post on suicide. Be sure to read her previous posts, Black Men & Depression, pt. 1 and Black Men & Depression, pt. 2: PTSD and explore her insights on this important mental health issue within the black community. 

I wish I could write about a more, light-hearted or encouraging topic, especially during this time of the year. I wish that depression and anxiety was not increasingly becoming one of the most widespread epidemics in our world. I wish that that the stigma of depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges would dissipate and that people would begin to embrace talking more openly about their mental health without fear of ostracism. I wish that black people specifically would take better care of our emotional and mental health and stop turning our pain inward nurturing more self-hatred; letting many of the implications make a mess of our collective welfare and global images. I wish that people would take a break from committing suicide; that it would magically stop. Magic never works when we need it to, like never. So, here we are with the third part of the Black Men and Depression series to take a glance at the upward trend of black men and suicide.

February 1, 2012.

August 9, 2013.

August 30, 2012

These dates could randomly be the joyous dates of a 21st birthday, the anniversary of a wedding, new job or new house closing date. Sadly, these dates are also the dates of the deaths of three famous black men from suicide.

Don Cornelius, Founder of Soul Train
On February 1, 2012, founder and visionary creator of Soul Train, Don Cornelius, was found dead from a self- inflicted gunshot wound to the head. August 9, 2013, Lee Thompson Young, Disney star and rising young actor shot and killed himself. Chris Lighty, music exec and co-founder of Violator record label shot and killed himself on August 30, 2012.

A list of deaths of other non-famous black men from ages 15-34 reveals that suicide is the third largest cause of death after murder and accident. Although it’s reported that there is a nationwide increasing trend toward suicide for black men, it was difficult to find data that showed the actual number of increase of suicides among black men in recent years.

As addressed in "How Did I Get Here?", data about black men, depression and suicide is lacking and
in need of more statistical analysis. It seems this group is ignored, difficult to track or researchers are slow in realizing the need for information concerning the state of mental health of black men.

Chris Lighty, Co-Founder of Violator Records
However, there is a mass of pop culture and social commentary and attention being brought to the topic. Hence, this blogpost. 

Recently, I saw a promo for a documentary called Face of Darkness which profiles the experience of depression affecting the African American community over the last decade, and even more, explores the growing epidemic of suicide among its male population. The film also minimizes the stigma, exposes the aftermath of when depression is not treated. I have not had an opportunity to view the entire movie, however the promotional video makes a point to emphasize that one of the factors attributed to the increase in successful suicide among black men is that men tend to use more aggressive measures to commit suicide while women tend to use more passive measures. The video for the promo of the Face of Darkness movie is below, please take a few minutes to watch it.

Successful suicide? 

This term jars me every time I see it, but it is used in much of the literature on suicide to refer to the completion of a suicide as opposed to an attempt which in some cases is a cry for help. Even more jarring is the idea that even in a cry for help by attempting suicide a man is more likely to actually complete the suicide because of their tendency to use more lethal means, such as suffocation or firearms as in the case of our three brothers mentioned above.

Lee Thompson Young, Actor
So, how do we hear our brothers crying for help? How do we make a safe place for men to share about their mental state before it becomes a “successful suicide”? How do we turn a light on for them? Is there something else beyond a gesture, a check in, an encouragement for them to see a professional, accompanying them to a mental health visit, praying, laugh, listening, eating with them; being present with them?

I don’t have all the answers, but I hope that as much as it is within our control to be there for someone who is suffering, DO IT. I pray that that through increased awareness about depression and anxiety in the black community that there is not another date that becomes the date of death by suicide for anyone in our community because of our failure to intervene due to ignorance or apathy.


For more information on this topic or if you need help:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

** Jamesgirl **


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