A few weeks ago, we sat having lunch at a restaurant in downtown Kansas City. Seven friends
and family members enjoyed sharing memories of our high school and college days. Even
though we laughed as we relived funny stories that become more and more blurry each year,
we made a point to avoid mentioning one name in particular. It was the name of the wife of
one of our longtime friends. She was also the mother of one of the luncheon attendees. We
intentionally recollected jokes and antics that we’d all experienced that did not include that
same person. Perhaps it was too painful to say her name because we weren’t sure how her
husband and daughter would react. My friend’s wife of 30+ years and mother of his children
had taken her own life. It was planned and orchestrated without any warning or prior
SUICIDE is not a word freely discussed in the Black community. Yes, we know it happens, but we
don’t talk about it. We whisper about it or use other words to describe the unexpected passing
of a friend or loved one who wasn’t sick or hadn’t died in an accident or a victim of violence
inflicted by another person. Maybe we are afraid of the response or silence or awkwardness of
the circumstances. We feel anger, guilt, confusion, disbelief, and many other emotions that we
struggle to express. Why did she do it? She had everything! Why wasn’t she happy? What could
I have done to prevent this tragedy? What were the signs? I wish I had been paying closer
attention. Was there a note? What do we do now? How can we pick up the pieces and go on
with our lives when such a vital person is no longer here? Should we have group counseling?
How do we console the family members who she left behind? These and many other questions
may never get answered to our satisfaction. But the fact remains…suicide and suicidal thoughts
are more prevalent than ever before. They should be shared with and addressed by mental
health professionals as quickly as possible.
The following article discusses the rise of suicide rates in the African American community. Five
Reasons Suicide Is on the Rise in the Black Community, according to a Psychiatrist. (Maia Niguel
Hoskin, PhD, 2022). Suicide rates are climbing in Black communities around the United States.
Psychiatrist Patrice Harris, MD, a former president of the American Medical Association,
discusses what factors may be driving this increase.
“Two devastating losses to suicide in the Black community marked the beginning of
2022: the deaths of attorney, former Miss USA, activist, and entertainment news
correspondent Cheslie Kryst, and of up-and-coming DJ and songwriter Ian King Jr., who
was also the son of Academy Award–winning actress Regina King.
The deaths of Kryst and King sent shock waves through the Black community and among
fans at large. Both were young: Kryst was 30, and King had turned 26 just days before
taking his life. Both were successful and appeared to have the world at their fingertips.
Sadly, Kryst and King are not alone. Their deaths have shed light on an ongoing and
alarming issue: increasing rates of suicide among Black Americans. Between 2014 and
2019, rates of suicide among Black people in the United States increased by 30 percent,
according to data published in May 2021 in JAMA Network Open.”
I didn’t know that according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, “Between 2011 and
2020, the suicide rate among Black men was 3 times that of Black women”. What is causing the
rise in suicide rates in the Black community? Dr. Harris noted 5 reasons for the increase.
1. Social Media Ramps Up Pressure to Fit In
2. Mental Health Stigma Impedes Black People From Seeking Help
3. Treatment Is Often Less Accessible to Black People
4. Black People Continually Face Racism and Discrimination
5. Many Black People Are Frequently Exposed to Violence
Dr. Harris stresses that combatting mental health issues in the Black community needs to be a
collective effort among people with mental health issues, their loved ones, and medical
professionals, and needs to involve dismantling the racist systems that cause many of these
mental health issues in the first place.
What can we do as an individual? We can encourage discussions about the need for expanded
access to mental health resources. We can seek assistance when we’re feeling overwhelmed.
We can make a stronger effort to practice self-care. We can make a difference and save lives by
reaching out to people in our communities. There are agencies, hot lines, free services,
websites, apps, and organizations available. As a matter of fact, Diversity Telehealth offers
reasonably priced memberships to counseling services. We can also provide free memberships
for those in financial need.
Let’s make mental health a topic that we discuss freely and remove the stigma attached to it
before it takes another life of a family member or loved one. We can do this!
Dr. Shelley Cooper