Suicide and young black men: why brothers feel so alone

By Madison J. Gray

Years ago, when Mike Veni At age 10, she attempted suicide. He said it was too much to bear the pain and he just wanted it to go away. He did not know about the tools available to people today such as sitting down and talking about his feelings or learning to deal with his own internal strife.

“One day I came home, and I said I was done,” he explained BET.com. “And I went to the medicine cabinet … swallowed the whole bottle.”

His mother later found him and took him to the hospital where his stomach was pumped. Ironically, he says, he was angry at his mother at the time so he couldn’t end his pain. And although he survived the attempt, it was not the end of many more depressions that turned into at least one other suicide attempt.

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Veni’s condition is sad but not unique. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, between 1 and 1 and 2017, black teenagers saw the highest increase in suicide attempts of any group. Issues such as social isolation, exhaustive mental health problems, and the age-old problems of institutional and systemic racism have created a gantlet for the youth of the last generation that is difficult for many to survive.

Vennie, who says she has been battling mental health challenges for years, recently spoke on these topics as a guest on Saving Young Black Lives: Reversing Suicide Trends, a new podcast series at the Central East Mental Health Technology Transfer Center. Focuses on suicides among young people.

Young, black women were not spared from this disaster. Suicide attempts for black adolescents have also increased, and the problem is actually widespread across ethnic and racial groups, Jama reported. But there has been a dramatic increase in the number of black men, and people in the mental health community have become more fearful and determined to help.

For Veni, its author Transformed Stigma: How to Be a Mental Health Superhero And as a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist, the stigma of mental health problems in the African American community is the root cause of many problems.

“Even though things have gotten better over the last few years, there’s still a struggle to talk openly about it, especially among men,” Veni said. “So there’s a common challenge among African American youth, generally just talking about mental health. Combine that with what’s going on in the world because of the internet and social media, we’re seeing more of it and when you can’t talk about things, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

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A challenging definition of masculinity

There is a legend that young black men and boys find it difficult to talk about their feelings or the problems they may be struggling with internally. Their inability to stay open only leads to further internalization of their emotions and possible externalization of their pain.

To further illustrate this, Veni cites an article published on her website called “Depression vs. The Strong Black Man”, where she discusses the issue and says she fell into a roadblock.

“At that time, I typed ‘strong black man’ into Google to find a definition. I couldn’t find one, which I found very interesting. But he says he generously finds the subject thrown around the African American community almost as an archaeologist.

“I think this mythical image that we hold in our minds makes it difficult to show our weaknesses and talk to each other,” Veni added, “We need to be tough around each other to show that we’re‘ strong ’. There is a cultural myth that reminds us of what a strong black man is and how it affects our youth.

The incident goes deeper than that. In addition to the cultural need to see young men as super men, multiple social factors can also be a cause of frustration that leads to suicide attempts. Dr. Alfie Breland-Nobel, Therapist and founder of the nonprofit AAKOMA project, agreed with Veni about the stigma of mental illness among blacks, and stressed that it was only part of the puzzle.

Related: Mental health experts say more African Americans are seeking therapy because of images of police violence

“Since you have additional racial trauma, racial pressure, other social justice issues that affect blacks, such as in the case of Kovid, as well as lack of access and inequality in who can care, and what kind of care people get, you have this terrible There are perfect storms that really affect black people in unique ways, ”Breland-Noble noted.

See: Black Men and Mental Health

Many black people do not see the traditional therapeutic forms of mental health treatment as sustainable and due to the lack of access to mental health professionals in the community and fewer people, fewer people try to take care of them.

“So what will people do instead? Many people just suffer in silence, ”he said. “This is how you end up with this skyrocketing rate of suicide attempts. When we look at data from the (Congressional Black Caucus) ‘Ring the Alarm’ report, you have these high rates for boys, especially in terms of suicide attempts and injuries.

“If these issues are not addressed in childhood, you have young people who are becoming adults, where many have never received the kind of treatment that leads to suicide,” said Brandland-Noble. Injury, frustration or even emotional behavior.

Racial trauma is also a often overlooked reason behind stress that can lead to suicidal behavior in young black men. Many fall victim to the influence of institutional or systemic racism and this is exacerbated by the constant mainstream and social media images of black people. George Floyd, Ahmed Arberry, Breona Taylor And others who have lost their lives in police or vigilante violence.

Related: Breona Taylor: Turning pain into action

“There are so many names,” Breland-Noble said. “As we see these things happen again and again with black people, we cannot forget that such attacks and killings and deaths are happening to blacks, especially blacks … Still hurt, these things are very specific to blacks, especially blacks.

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Finding solutions

(Congressional Black Caucus) The ‘Ring the Alarm’ report has suggested solutions to the problem of increasing youth suicidal tendencies. They include:

  • Increase research through the National Institutes of Health and funding for the National Institute of Mental Health
  • Increase funding for black researchers who have focused on this area of ​​study
  • Institute project demonstrates best practices implemented by public-private partnerships that intervene in the youth suicide crisis
  • Ensuring community engagement between lawmakers and public policymakers where it will be effective for young people of color and LGBTQ + youth.
  • Create a national website where information about suicidal behavior among young people of color can be collected.

Vennie also noted that since many African Americans receive their healthcare through the public health system, more efforts should be made by those agencies to make mental health care more accessible to black men.

“I think it needs to be a very coordinated campaign with the religious organizations of the black community because if you are not a religious person you know about the local churches because of their local power.” “It’s important that these public health services address the mental health issues more collaboratively and aggressively.”

He encouraged men to find ways to participate in self-care and that could mean different things.

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“When you’re not in the presence of a medical professional, all you do for your health is take care of yourself,” he said. “Start being intentional about your health care. It’s unique to everyone, there is no prescription. Exercise is very important. I think everyone should do it, but it’s finding a combination of activities that work for you so that you can be your best. And you can get into the habit of feeling your best.

In cases where a person has suicidal thoughts and needs an immediate solution, Breland-Noble advises finding an immediate solution.

“If I talk to blacks in particular, I would say don’t be alone. Crisis text line, or if you have any way to connect whether you have these numbers, don’t leave yourself alone,” he said. “Because if you’re alone. Yes, but it is really difficult to get rid of those thoughts.

“Sometimes when people have suicidal thoughts at the moment if they can connect with other people, whether it’s through text, on the phone or even in person, it can really help bring out the other person from what we call ‘hot.’ We all need to have someone we trust – a safe person in our lives, who if we go south and we feel really awful, we know we can pick up the phone or text or call or go to the next room and find out. That person can. “

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It’s September National Suicide Prevention Month. For more information and resources on the mental health of the black community, see these links from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation

Lee Thompson Young Foundation

Black girls laugh

Therapy for black men

Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective

If you are in an immediate crisis and are thinking of committing suicide, contact a friend or loved one or call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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