OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham  Black Suicide: Breaking the Silence 10-09-10

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham  Black Suicide: Breaking the Silence, Facing the Realities

October 9, 2010

Black Suicide: Breaking the Silence, Facing the Realities

 Tonight’s Guest: Amy Alexander


Author, Writer, Commentator “Lay My Burdens Down”; The Nation; WP Amy Lynn Alexander writes and produces news, analysis, and commentary. Her work has appeared in print and broadcast outlets nationwide, including The Washington Post, National Public Radio, TheRoot.com, and The Nation. 

She is author of three nonfiction books, including the bestseller, Fifty Black Women Who Changed America; and Lay My Burden Down: Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans, co-authored with Alvin. F. Poussaint, M.D. 

 Black suicide, which was once considered an oxymoron, has become an unfortunate reality. No longer so, and we mostly don’t want to talk about it; we hide it inside the pages of our Bibles and Qurans; and walk away hoping that he/she really doesn’t mean that.

 On Friday October 8, 2010, as the clock tower struck 10:00 p.m. and the bell rang, the flagpole became the site of prayer and remembrance Thursday night at Howard University. Students gathered to mourn the loss of Aiyisha Hassan, who committed suicide on Tuesday. They also remembered an  18-year-old Rutgers University student who committed suicide after video of him engaging in sexual activity surfaced on the Internet; a 13-year-old Hope Witsell hung herself from her canopy bed after being bullied by classmates and a young African- American teacher who had taken her life.  A 24 yr old Ohio State teacher went to a gun range in New Albany last week and shot and killed herself. 

Before 1965, the suicide rate among blacks was one quarter that of whites. After 1970, suicide rates among blacks had escalated to half that of whites. In the 38 years since 1965, the suicide rate for black Americans has peaked twice, once in the late 1960?s and again in the late 1980?s. At the same time, suicide rates for African-American women have consistently hovered at a rate of two per 100,000 population (Griffith & Bell, 1989). From 1980 to 1995, the suicide rate for black youths between the ages of 10 and 19 increased 114 percent, from 2.1 to 4.5 percent per 100,000 population. The suicide rate increased the most for black males between the ages of 10 and 14 years of age. It was 233 percent for blacks and 120 percent for whites. For blacks aged 15 to 19, the rate increased 128 percent. It went up only 19 percent for whites (MMWR, 1998). By 1998, however, the number of suicides in the black male population, aged 15 to 24, had dropped and the number of black men who took their own lives returned to what it had been in the early 1980?s. In 1994, the suicide level for black youths aged 15 to 24 was 21 per 100,000 population (IOM, 2002).   

Paradoxes of Black Suicide   There are paradoxes that exist in the consideration of suicide in the Black community that requires explanation:  BLACK WOMEN reject Suicide even when they attempt it. Black women are often at a the greatest disadvantage in our society (e.g. discrimination, poverty and exposure to violence). They currently have the lowest suicide rates in the United States. Because of their disadvantaged status,African-American women’s infrequent use of suicide as a solution to their problems puzzles many social scientists. African-American women are just as likely to attempt suicide as European- American women but less likely to complete it.  What protective factors safeguard Black women, and how can we transpose them ?   The  Black Male Suicide Epidemic Turn Around in 1998 The second issue has to do with the increase in suicides between 1993 and 1994 in the black male population between the ages of 15 and 24. The increase prompted the United States to declare suicide an epidemic among young black males. By 1998 the young black male suicide epidemic had vanished. The reason for the 25 percent decrease in the youthful African-American male suicide rate has never been explained.  Low rate of suicide among Black males in prison Suicide rates for incarcerated men are approximately nine to fifteen times higher than for men on the outside and prison suicide rates are approximately one and a half times higher than in the general population. Similarly, youths in detention and correctional facilities are four times more likely to commit suicide than youths in the general population. There are many more black men in correctional facilities than white. Nevertheless, white males are the most likely to end their lives in such places.  Confinement in these institutions clearly promotes higher rates of suicide. The dynamic, however, does not appear to affect black males as much as it does white.

From Paradoxes of Black Suicide  Author: Donna Holland Barnes, Ph.D. and Carl C. Bell, MD

♦  Suggested Reading on Suicide and Depression in the Black Community ♦




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