Suicide and Black Men

The apparent suicide of Soul Train host Don Cornelius raises awareness of Black suicide, which, while still less prevalent than among whites, claims the lives of Black men at five times the rate of Black women.

Don Cornelius, Soul Train’s executive producer and host, died Monday due to what is believed to be a self-inflicted bullet wound to the head. It was reported that he had been in pain due to a recent stroke and other serious health conditions, which he described in a 2009 divorce filing.


While many in our community believe that suicide is a "white person's issue,” more and more research is finding that suicide rates among African-Americans are on the rise, especially among young Black men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third cause of death among African-American males between ages 15 and 24, behind homicide and accidents. Also, suicide death rates among Black men are five times that of Black women.

Here are some key stats about mental health and African-Americans:

•    Poverty level affects mental health status. African-Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are four times more likely to report psychological distress.
•    African-Americans are 30 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than whites.
•    Whites are more than twice as likely to receive antidepressant prescription treatments as Blacks.
•    However, the suicide rate for African-Americans is generally lower than that of the white population.
•    A report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that from 1980 to 1995, the suicide rate among African-Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233 percent, as compared to 120 percent of whites.

So what is causing these rates to increase?

Some researchers believe that environmental stressors play a factor. In a 2008 article about this issue, The reported:

Young black males live in some of the most-difficult circumstances in our society; the data show that black men go to jail, drop out of school and are victims of crime at rates far higher than their white counterparts. Moreover, young black males are more likely to live in more challenging family environments. Sixty-eight percent of all black households are single-parent households — pointing to an absence of male role models for young boys.

The combination of family stress, violence in their communities and the discrimination they face is taking a toll. Some mental health specialists argue that the rates may even be higher. Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that "death-by-cop" incidents should be counted as suicides. He believes that some despondent young men intentionally break the law so someone else will kill them.

According to WebMD, here are some warning signs of suicide:

•    Always talking or thinking about death
•    Clinical depression — deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating — that gets worse
•    Having a "death wish," tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death such as driving fast or running red lights
•    Losing interest in things one used to care about
•    Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless
•    Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
•    Saying things like "it would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out"
•    Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
•    Talking about suicide or killing one's self
•    Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

Anybody who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very seriously. Do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) or the deaf hotline at 800-799-4889.

BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world.


(Photo: Artur Borzecki / Getty Images)

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