Recently a friend mentioned to me that a young adult male relative of theirs had died and his family initially lied about the cause of his death; he actually died from suicide. Knowing that I specialize in providing psycho-education services to young Black males, they asked me why would a young adult black male in the prime of his life kill himself?
What my friend did not know like the majority of Blacks are unaware of, is that suicide is the third leading cause of death for African-American males ages 15 through 24. According to recent statistics Black males account for 85% of all suicide completions among African-Americans. Black males aged 20 to 24 have the highest firearm suicide rate in the US.
Black males account for 88% of all suicides among African-American youth. Over the last 10 years statistics show a rate of suicide increase of 233% for Black boys between the ages of 10 and 14. Getting back to the question my friend raised, why are so many young Black males committing suicide? They are primarily killing themselves because of depression related stress, frustration, and joblessness.
Economic exclusion decreases young adult Black males sense of self-worth and increases hopelessness. In a fairly recent report, Deindustrialization, Disadvantage, and Suicide Among Young Black Males', post-industrial cities like Pontiac suffering from tremendous job loses due to massive auto plant closings have higher suicide rates among young adult Black males.
The external depressed socioeconomic conditions of deprivation and degradation so many young adult Black males live in are often internalized and becomes psychological depression. Furthermore young adult Black males live in family and community contexts where depression has a greater impact.
According to a report the National Study of American Life published in General Psychiatry Today (March 6, 2007) found that African-Americans are significantly less likely to receive treatment for depression than Non-Hispanic whites. The study reveals the tremendous burden depression and other mental illnesses place on African-Americans. Finding includes African-Americans experience greater severity and persistence from depression; depression is more disabling and takes a greater toll on all aspects of their lives including work, relationships, social, and overall than for whites.
The International Journal of Social Psychiatry reports that racism is not only a stress burden on Blacks, but also a pathogen that generates depression. Untreated depression is the greatest predictor of suicide. As a psychotherapist too many Black men are unconsciously suffering from Adjustment Disorder (AD) which is an over-stressed based mental health issue; suicide behavior is prominent among AD patients.
Though the Black community is not paying attention to the depression and suicidal tendencies of young adult Black males there are obvious signs. One blatant indication is the huge amount of blunt cigars that are sold in almost every party store and grocery market in Black communities. Too many young adult Black males are buying these cigars to roll their weed in. Marijuana is the antidepressant drug of choice for them; smoking it daily temporarily relieves stress, tension, and depression.
Substance abuse is often a consequence of untreated depression. During the marijuana high period young adult Black males may think they feel better, but often the depression gets worse as the drug effects wear off; thus the need to smoke more marijuana to get relief. Many rap songs are laced with lyrics of suicidal thoughts and the therapeutic benefits of marijuana smoking.
In one of Tupac Shakur's most powerful rap songs, "Lord Knows', he rapped: "Another funeral! Lord knows I smoke a blunt to take the pain out, and if I weren't high I'd probably try and blow my brains out. I'm hopeless, they should've tried to kill me as a baby; now they got me trapped in the racist storm and I'm going crazy. I'm losing hope, they got me stressing; they want to see me in my casket, can the Lord forgive me."
Moreover the media daily trumpets messages to young adult black males that they are useless and endangered. In his book, Standing In The Shadows: Understanding And Overcoming Depression In Black Men, author John Head states: "We are bombarded with statistics and stereotypes telling us that of all the inevitable deaths, ours may be the most inevitable. We have a greater risk of premature death. We're more likely to die as a result of violence, particularly gun violence.
"For too many young Black males, the real and perceived vulnerability to violence is an invitation to take advantage of the easy access to guns as a means of self-protection. Possession of a gun, of course, is a major step up the ladder of risk factors for complete suicide. For young men who accept the message that they are doomed to die early and who believe society values their lives less than those of others, it becomes even more likely that a decent into depression will allow the illogic of the inevitability of suicide to take hold. When these young men live in an environment in which guns – the most effective means of suicide are readily available, it should be no surprise that a suicide crisis develops."
Indeed, the Black community has ignored the obvious suicide warning signs of young adult Black males: preoccupation with death, no hope for the future, and self-destructive behaviors. We are ignoring these warning signs because we are in denial and for the most part the subject of suicide is taboo in our communities.
Suicide particularly is a hidden crisis in our communities because the general subject of mental health is unsettling to us. We have the misperception that mental illness means you are 'crazy', a moral failure, or personally weak. Young adult Black males of the 'super macho' hip-hop generation have been socialized that expressing feelings and emotions is unmanly, weak, and soft.
Thus many young adult Black males with despondent feelings, emotional pain, trauma, and psychological distress don't seek mental health care. When their mental heath issues are not addressed and treated, young adult Black males are more vulnerable to substance abuse, incarceration, homicide, and suicide.
From my perspective the tremendous rise of suicide among young adult Black males stems from an attitude of worthlessness and correlated logic. They believe what difference does it make if I live or die, who cares? Nobody wants to hear about my feelings of hurt and pain. I'm all alone! I'll end my own life and everybody will be satisfied. I'll be just another dead Black man.
To provide prevention and intervention assistance to suicide at-risk young adult Black males, the Black community must stop believing in the myths and stigma that anyone who tries to or has killed himself must be crazy. Most suicidal young adult Black males are not psychotic or insane, they may be grief-stricken, depressed, frustrated, and alienated, but extreme distress and emotional pain are not necessarily signs of mental illness.
I wrote this article to raise mental health awareness of the rising suicide rates among young adult Black males.