Black men and suicide: Breaking the stigma

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death for black males, ages 15-24. Suicide rates have doubled among black men since 1980. Aaron Lane, MSOL, Southeast Strategy & Relations, Parkview Health, shares more about the barriers to addressing this mental health concern.

The stigma

Men are saddled with an unhealthy misconception of what it means to be “strong”. There is an unspoken expectation to be tough and avoid showing emotion or weakness tied to their gender. Some men fear that deviating from those stereotypes might change the way others view them.  

Self-care, or the thought of focusing on our emotional health, is often viewed as emasculating. But the truth is, that in order to survive, we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. We have to put our own oxygen mask on before we can help anyone else with theirs. And that includes addressing our mental health concerns.

Why mental health can be “tricky”

According to Janell Lane, LMHC, director, Southeast Strategy & Relations, often people are looking for a baseline that doesn’t really exist. The difference between “normal” mental health and diagnosable “mental illness” can boil down to:

  • number of symptoms 
  • frequency and duration of symptoms
  • severity of symptoms (how much the symptoms are affecting your daily functioning/life)

It’s important to remember that there is no such thing as “normal. It’s about what’s typical for you. You have to ask yourself if you are within your usual scope of feelings, behaviors and thoughts, and whether you are functioning and at a level that is typical for you. Issues at work, in your relationship or in other areas of your daily life can be signs that your mental health is suffering.

Warning signs

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these are the general warning signs of a change in mental health:

  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there
  • Extremely high and low moods
  • Aches, headaches, or digestive problems without a clear cause
  • Irritability
  • Social withdrawal
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Sadness that persists for a month or longer
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Excessive fear or worry
Suicidal thoughts

Suicidal thoughts aren’t always obvious. You might not actually think, “I’m going to kill myself.”

Subtler expressions of distress might sound like …

“I can’t take it anymore.”

“Maybe things would be easier if I weren’t here.”

“I wonder if life would be better for my wife/kids if I weren’t here?”

“What if I just didn’t turn the car off?” “What if I turned the wheel?” “What if I jumped?”

“Who would notice?”

If you or a loved one has been able to identify how you would end your life, it’s important to ask for help immediately.

Slow suicide

In addition to the sudden methods of suicide, there are habits and behaviors that can lead to severe health issues, or even death, including:

  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Gang involvement
  • Risky sexual activity
  • Other risky behaviors
Environmental stressors

There are a number of environmental stressors unique to the black community.

  • Black males go to jail, drop out of school and are victims of crime at higher rates than their white counterparts.
  • Young black males are more likely to live in challenging family environments. As many as 68% of black households are single parent homes, with no male role models.
  • Poverty levels also impact mental health. In Southeast Fort Wayne, 80% of the population lives below the ALICE guidelines.

The combination of family stress and violence in the community, takes a toll on the African American male psyche. This population is also susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can lead to anxiety and depression.

Seeking help

Contact your primary care physician. If you don’t have one, you can ask for referrals and call your insurance company to ask for a list of covered providers.

If you are not sure if you need support, consider setting up an assessment with a mental health professional.

There are several hotlines and resources you can call, including:

  • National Suicide Prevention Line – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Parkview Behavioral Health HelpLine – (260) 373-7500
  • Park Center – (260) 481-2700
  • Bowen Center – (260) 471-3500
  • Text “LOOKUP” to 494949 or call 800-284-8439

 

 

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