Writing a story about suicide is difficult; writing a story about Black male suicide seems impossible. Finding Black males willing to speak openly and transparently about their struggles with suicide was challenging, given the existing stigma surrounding mental health issues in the Black community as a whole. The men quoted in this story asked to remain anonymous.
Despite the wave of #selflove and encouragement to seek out therapy that has surfaced on social media, Black males tend to be silently excluded from these conversations. With the rise in number of Black males committed suicide, particularly locally, organizations such as Love Alive Church, Healthy BR, Urban Congress on African American Males, beBATONROUGE, State Representative Ted James and the Urban League of Louisiana, started open dialogue about the issue. “My Brother, You Matter,” was held on March 25, 2019, and created a safe space to address a topic that is difficult but necessary to have. To learn more, watch the live stream below.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Report recently released alarming data that suicides among Black males in EBR had increased nearly seven times in 2018. Last year, fourteen Black males committed suicide in Baton Rouge. Most of them died by self-inflicted gunshots. According to the Center for Disease Control, firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide among males. The statistics are similarly on the rise nationwide.
A few Black males shared with beBATONROUGE their personal experiences with both suicide ideations and suicidal attempts. Suicide ideation, simply put, is thinking about wanting to take your own life. Passive ideations are thoughts that you wish you were dead, but you have no plans to actually commit suicide. Active ideations are thoughts related to actual plans to commit suicide.
Chris, a 28-year-old male, states that he’s thought about suicide as an escape from the harshness of the world, particularly for African American males. “Sometimes it’s too hard to act ‘hard’ or not show your feelings,” explains Chris. His childhood traumas also played a part in his wishes to die, although he says he never had a plan. Growing up without either parent in his life left Chris feeling alone and admits that he still struggles with thinking about hurting himself sometimes. “I’ve called the (suicide) hotline before, it helped more than I thought it would,” Chris says.
Terrance, now 33, shared that he’s thought about suicide since he was nine years old. He continued to struggle during his adolescent years before making an attempt at fifteen when he overdosed on antidepressants. He stated that he felt like a bother or a burden to his loved ones and figured they would be better off without him alive. Terrance states that time spent in a psychiatric facility following the suicide attempt gave him driving fuel for life after he was encouraged to find something worth living for. Terrance followed up his inpatient care with therapy where he was able to “dissect” himself and discover the origin of his depression and anger. Terrance believes that learning when you should go and see a counselor or doctor is the first step to addressing suicide. He believes too many Black men just “suck it up” when it comes to feeling depressed. “There’s nothing wrong with going to talk to someone when you’re feeling sick. It’s just like any other illness. You’d go see a doctor if you didn’t feel good.”
Terrance is correct, we must continue to destigmatize mental illness and embrace mental wellness. Encouraging Black men to speak openly and honestly about their struggles among each other is integral in addressing the issue of suicide in a way that is productive and helpful. This is the beginning of the productive conversation and I am hopeful it continues throughout the community.
Need Help? Know Someone Who Does?
Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
Both are free and confidential. You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.