Black Suicides on the Rise

August 28, 2010

The news about Fantasia’s suicide attempt was shocking and the circumstances were certainly fodder for the news and entertainment tabloids.  Wherever you fall on your judgment of Fantasia’s behavior at this time,  there is a serious issue going on here that we are not talking about.  Black suicide rates are going up.  There is an assumption among many that Black people do not commit suicide, but that is starting to change.  However, because of the lingering misconceptions about Black people and suicide, we tend to have less information about symptoms leading to suicide and much less support available when it happens in a family.

Please take a listen to the attached NPR program featuring Alvin Poussaint, an African American psychiatrist who has long been a gift to African American families with his books about Black child development and his consultations with Bill Cosby on the Cosby Show.

He speaks clearly and directly about the statistics which suggest that this is actually becoming more of a problem for Black men, and the statistics for Black women have remained stable (not that it doesn’t happen in Black women, it has just not gotten any worse for this group). 

Poussaint has some theories about why this happens, which include prolonged episodes of stress and undiagnosed or untreated psychiatric problems.  He also postulates that homicide in our communities may sometimes be a suicidal gesture.  I agree that the excessive risk taking behavior in gangs who engage in the behavior knowing that there will more than likely be a retaliation, is essentially suicidal.  I don’t believe it is a conscious gesture (or that the risk taking is so well-thought out or even in the person’s awareness) but that there is probably a feeling of hopelessness behind it, and hopelessness is a major reason in depression and suicidal thinking.  

In the NPR piece there is also information on support, which has historically been sorely lacking in Black communities for this type of loss.  Please find other facts and information about suicide in the Black community in the links below.

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