Understanding suicide in Black communities
Prevention week focuses on ‘inconspicuous’ life-ending methods
UNDERSTANDING SUICIDE: As the country observes National Suicide Prevention Week, an alarming pattern has developed in the African American community that might be the reason that suicide rates among Blacks are lower than any other group. (Courtesy of BET.com)
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
Suicide claims about 40,000 lives every year in the United States, an alarming statistic that experts said should be of utmost concern to all Americans.
Traditionally, African Americans have felt that suicide wasn’t as much of a problem as it is in other communities. But, as the country observes National Suicide Prevention Week beginning Monday, Sept. 8, a pattern has emerged among African Americans that could contradict reports of low suicide rates among Blacks.
“One of the major risk factors that need more attention for our young Black males is the idea that there’s no hope for the future,” said Donna Holland Barnes president and founder of the National Organization for People of Color against Suicide (NOPCAS) in Northwest Washington, D.C.
“When we focus on that risk factor, we may not see completed suicides in the traditional manner. We will see life-threatening behavior – behavior that puts one in harm’s way almost on a daily basis, such as engaging in violence that could cause one to be killed, smoking harmful cigarettes with chemicals in them that can cause brain disorders, or driving recklessly,” said Barnes, who lost a son to suicide in 1990.
The most recent statistics pro-vided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta show that in the first decade of the millennium, the suicide rate among U.S. adults rose 28 percent.
Some health officials said the figure actually may be higher.
Nationally, 12.68 per 100,000 people commit suicide each year, compared to 5.98 per 100,000 people in the District, according to statistics.
Officials at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), in Northwest, said suicide is the 17th leading cause of death in Washington, D.C., but among young people, the rate is much higher. It’s the third leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 to 24 and the sixth leading cause of death for those between 25 and 44.
For Blacks, the national rate of suicide for all ages stands at 5.37 per 100,000. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for African American males between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the CDC.
Several officials at suicide prevention and awareness organizations like NOPCAS, AFSP and Active Minds, also located in Northwest, said while mental health problems among African Americans continue to rise, rates of suicide have not increased.
Still, they cautioned that it’s important to keep a close watch on the Black community.
“While certain racial and ethnic groups may have lower suicide rates than others, this does not mean that suicide is not a concern within those groups,” said Doreen Marshall, the senior director of education and prevention at AFSP.
“It’s important that we understand that suicide can be a concern for any individual, regardless of race or ethnicity, and that making assumptions about whether a person is likely to be suicidal based on race, gender or any other demographic variable can impact whether that person will believe that they can seek help,” Marshall said.
Throughout the week in the District, several organizations are hosting seminars and rallies and other events to show support for victims of suicide and their friends and families.