Also, the 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that, compared to non-Hispanic white boys, black high-school age boys are more likely to have made serious suicide attempts that require medical attention.
Suicide has become a leading cause of death in the U.S. among all age groups, but particularly in youth and young adults. It is the second leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds. Parents, teachers and professionals must be able to both talk about it and understand the risks for vulnerable children of any race. But those of us who work with black youth may also need to address some myths about suicide in the African American community.
For example, one such myth has its start almost three decades ago, Kevin Early and Ronald Akers’ interviews with African American pastors concluded that suicide is a “white thing” and that black people are accustomed to struggling through life challenges without succumbing to suicide. those authors concluded that black people see suicide as a “white thing” but it is a myth that black people do not die by suicide.
Based on anecdotal conversations that many others and I have heard in day-to-day conversations and that sometimes emerge in popular media, this opinion about suicide in the black community has shifted relatively little.
More importantly, black youth at risk may even be more difficult to identify than non-black youth. One study referred to college age racial/ethnic minority people, including African Americans, as “hidden ideators” who are less likely than other youth to disclose thoughts of suicide. Because suicide is occurring and at shockingly young ages, comprehensive efforts are needed to address this public health problem.
Studies suggest that stigma about mental illness and the feeling that one will be outcast further or ignored may keep black youth from sharing their thoughts. Also, public health and mental health experts may be unaware that suicide risk factors could show up differently depending on ethnic group.
Simply put, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for identifying suicide risk. And little or no action has been taken to address the increasing crisis. As an African American psychologist, I find this frustrating when children’s lives are lost – lives that could be saved.
Unique needs in African American mental health
Most mental health services are not designed with cultural and social nuances in mind. My research team has found consistently that the challenges that black kids face in navigating dual cultural contexts may increase their risk of suicidal thoughts.
In research on adults, we found that black men and women who used more Eurocentric or individualist approaches that was more self-focused rather than managing stress via the belief in a Higher Power were more likely to consider suicide. This was not true for those who used more culturally meaningful, spiritual coping.
When there are cultural differences, therapists must be willing to “think outside of the box” to fully evaluate risk for suicide. As an example, the racism that black Americans encounter increases stress for many. Thus, their stressors and mental health issues will need different solutions and approaches than treatments that work for white people.
In another study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry, we observed different patterns of risk for black adults compared to white adults who were admitted for psychiatric care. We examined sleep-related problems, which are elevated among black Americans, and suicide because sleep issues are a serious but understudied risk factor for suicide crisis. It turns out that inadequate sleep can escalate an emotional crisis. Our research found that problems staying awake for activities such as driving or engaging in social activities, which reveal inadequate sleep, were associated with a four-fold greater risk for suicide crisis compared to non-suicide crisis in black adults who were admitted for psychiatric treatment.
Caring adults are a child’s first line of defense. If a child discloses that he is thinking about dying, it is important to ask him to share more about his ideas and if he knows he might die. If a child has a suicide plan, it is time to get professional help.
The Crisis Text Line at 741741 could be an option for teens who need help to cool down in a crisis.
When it comes to finding a mental health professional, parents need an expansive list of referral options, including university-affiliated mental health clinics that offer evidence-based services on a sliding scale and federally qualified health centers for the uninsured. Regardless of the setting, a well-trained therapist may be of a different race.
Parents and caregivers must be willing to sit, listen and try to fully understand what is most upsetting for a child who is experiencing a difficult situation and a lot of emotions.
For those who believe that the alarming statistics will eventually reverse course without any action, this may be true. In the meantime, saving one life is worth the effort.
Thoughts of suicide do not mean that a child or teen needs to be hospitalized. It means they are in emotional pain and want the pain to end. Adults can investigate the problem and remove it or help the child deal with it. Online resources such as Stopbullying.gov include interactive videos that are useful to parents, educators and youth. Suggesting to a child that she “get over it” is less than helpful. A child who is already in a vulnerable state cannot problem-solve without meaningful support from the caring adults in charge.
The idea of suicide is absolutely unthinkable to most. However, if you look at it through the eyes of someone in the darkness of depression, the anxiety of schizophrenia, the confusion of bi-polar disorder and so many others, many people may consider ending it all to have peace.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans. However, mental health is nothing new in the black community, and those who are suffering silently may not always feel that they have a welcoming seat at the table to be comforted or healed.
Mental health is sometimes undermined in the Black community because those who have suicidal thoughts feel that they may be considered “insane” or too weak to withstand life’s circumstances. And then, there are those within the faith community who may say that dealing with suicidal thoughts is as simple as giving it to God or “pray it away.”
But what happens when you’re a Christian and still suffer from mental illness and suicidal thoughts? And what is the church’s role in helping these people?
Josceleyne, 28, had a late diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Amidst the diagnosis she injured her back, lost her job, and lost her insurance; however, she continued to pursue her Master’s degree while being loved by her loyal husband and children.
Due to her sudden loss of income, Josceleyne accrued more student loan debt and extremely was anxious about her financial stability. As a result of all she was going through, Joscelyne, a devout Christian, turned to her pastor for assistance and didn’t receive the response she was expecting. She also felt a lack of emotional support from her church family after her diagnosis, due to what she believed was a lack of understanding, according to family members.
And like others before her, Josceleyne was told to “pray harder,” instead of seeking professional help on how to cope with her current situation.
As time went on, Josceleyne began to take a combination of pain medication to subdue the wrenching back pain and sleeping pills because of her insomnia. Then, one night she accidentally overdosed on her medications and ended her life.
Josceleyne’s family says there was an overwhelmingly negative response to her accidental death that included gossip on her mental state, speculation on why she did not hand her issues to God, and limited support from the community.
Often, the stigma of mental illness in the Black community is that it is a personal issue, not a result of chemical imbalance. However, when people have cancer or other incurable diseases the community may offer sympathy and prayer. There is nothing immoral about seeking medical attention for those ailments, so why would there be criticism for incurable, mental illness?
As Christians, we cannot place the burden on those who suffer. According to Ephesians 6:18, we are told to “be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”
“Don’t Give Up Like Me.”
Often, members of the black community are raised to avoid cracking under pressure and staying strong even in the midst of chaos. So, mood disorders, such as depression, are viewed as a weakness instead of an illness, which often leads to thoughts of suicide.
Angie, an educated woman in her 20’s, knows this story all too well.
Just a few years ago, her budding, post-recession career was falling apart repeatedly, along with her long-term relationship. And although she appeared to have it all together, she lived just above the poverty line.
As a result of all that was going on, and despite her prayer and praise, Angie finally gave up hope. She made peace with ending her life because she got tired of repeatedly failing, being poor, and felt like a waste of God’s time. Upon making her decision she called her best friend, Elle, and said, “Don’t give up like me. I can’t do it anymore, but you can make it. Just don’t give up.”
On that day, Elle immediately became one of God’s vessels by crying with Angie, discussing her decision, offering encouragement and pushing her to get back up. Then, Angie received additional support from her cousin, Dylan, who sat up with her well into the night to bring her to the source of pain so she could begin to heal.
Soon after, Angie reluctantly went to her pastor and feared condemnation, but instead her concerned pastor simply asked,“Why.” And, even after she explained all of her reasons for wanting to end her life, Angie’s pastor offered both scripture and words of encouragement during her time of need.
Angie says that having Elle, Dylan, and her pastor allowed her to know that nothing was greater than love, especially self-love, which is an extension of God’s love.
How many of us have already written our mental obituaries with the headline, “Don’t Give Up Like Me,” because it was assumed that no one would be there to help us? Is it truly better to suffer alone when we are all a part of God’s family?
By bringing the issue to the forefront, it will help to erase the stigma, recognize the signs/symptoms, and create an avenue of help for those who are suffering.
Ways to Help Those Suffering from Mental Illness
Establish an understanding of what mental illness and mood disorders really are
Consider establishing resources right there in your church, including in-house training for staff, informational videos and pamphlets for parishioners.
Invite speakers who have survived mental illness to come in and speak to members of the congregation.
Consider preaching sermons on mental illness and mood disorders.
Organize events centered around mental health
Provide resources that will connect those in need with the right programs and medical professionals.
Available resources and support for people with mental illness
One L. Goh, the 43-year-old South Korean immigrant who is charged with killing seven people Monday at a tiny Christian College in Oakland, California, reportedly felt picked on by members of his mostly Korean school community.
“People at the school ‘disrespected him, laughed at him,’ Oakland Police chief Howard Jordan said, according to the Associated Press. “They made fun of his lack of English speaking skills. It made him feel isolated compared to the other students.”
Oikos University nursing instructor Romie Delariman disputed that assertion, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that Goh “can’t deal with women” and is “mentally unstable” and “paranoid.”
Jordan said Goh had gone to the school in search of a female administrator who he felt had done him wrong, but she wasn’t there when the shooting took place. He also said Goh was expelled in January for “unspecified behavior problems” and “anger management” issues. Goh, thus far, has shown no remorse for the killings, investigators said.
The Link Between Bullying and Suicide
While few would accept or condone Goh’s explanation that mistreatment led him to kill seven people, injure three others, and traumatize an entire community, the narrative that bullying causes young people to kill themselves has become a widely accepted one in recent years.
The suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, for example, became a rallying cry for national anti-bullying campaigns in the fall of 2010. Clementi killed himself shortly after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, used a web-cam to spy on him and another man as they engaged in an intimate encounter. Ravi then took to Twitter to invite others to watch a second hook-up.
Late last month, 20-year-old Ravi was convicted of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and tampering with the police investigation. He faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years and possible deportation back to his native India. Ravi was not charged in connection with Clementi’s death, but it is unlikely that he would have been indicted apart from it and Clementi’s family sounds firm in the belief that Ravi’s actions caused Clementi’s suicide.
In his first public statements (published at the New Jersey Star Ledger) on the case, Ravi insisted that he didn’t have a problem with his roommate’s sexuality and said he didn’t take a plea deal that would have spared him jail time because he could never get up in court and concede to the charge of bias intimidation.
“I’m never going to regret not taking the plea,” Ravi said. “If I took the plea, I would have had to testify that I did what I did to intimidate Tyler and that would be a lie. I won’t ever get up there and tell the world I hated Tyler because he was gay, or tell the world I was trying to hurt or intimidate him because it’s not true.”
A lengthy New Yorker profile of the roommates asserts that it is anything but clear that Clementi was “bullied to death.”
The Problem With Simplistic Narratives
So, what’s the harm in raising the alarm about bullying? Controversy surrounding a new anti-bullying film provides some clues.
At a website for the new documentary Bully, readers are told that 13 million children will be bullied this year and 3 million will miss school because they don’t feel safe there.The movie has won rave reviews and is being widely advocated as an anti-bullying resource for children, even though it initially received an R-rating for language. But Slate writer Emily Bazelon, who has been reporting on high profile bullying cases for the past few years, worries that the film could do “some good” and “a lot of harm” because of what it doesn’t say about mental illness in its narrative of main character Tyler Long’s suicide.
Bazelon said what is missing from the storyline is Long’s diagnosis of ADHD, bipolar disorder, and Asperger’s Syndrome and the fact that his parents didn’t disclose their concerns that their son might be suicidal to counselors. Ann Haas, a senior project specialist for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, shared these concerns, telling Bazelon that leaving Long’s mental health history out of the film was an “egregious omission.”
“The filmmakers had the opportunity to present bullying as a trigger, as one factor that played a role in a young person’s suicide. But to draw a direct line without referencing anything else—I’m appalled, honestly. That is hugely, hugely unfortunate,” said Haas.
Incomplete pictures like the one painted of Long’s suicide in Bully and of Clementi’s suicide in the press have the potential to create a risk of suicide contagion, which Bazelon describes as “the documented phenomenon of people mimicking suicidal behavior in light of media representations.”
“One message of this move is: ‘Bullying kills’—as if it’s a normal response to kill yourself, when of course most people who are bullied don’t do that. Young people who feel bullied could harken back to the movie, and it could be a powerful draw to suicide for them. If Tyler had been accurately portrayed as a kid with mental health challenges that were very hard for him to manage, he wouldn’t seem so attractive,” said Haas.
The filmmakers disputed Bazelon’s critique in a statement to Entertainment Weekly, saying it downplays clear evidence that Long was bullied in the “days, weeks, and months before his death,” but Slate’s deputy editor defended it, saying Bazelon was only pointing out the potential harm in a one-sided, simplistic approach to the subject.
What do you think?
Could bullying cause someone to commit murder or suicide, or do these simplistic narratives have the potential to do more harm than good?
SOUL CONDUCTOR: Don Cornelius, dead at 75, transformed American culture with 'Soul Train.'
“Peace, Love, and Soul.”
That’s how he used to bid us adieu at the close of every show, that bespectacled man with the velvety voice and cool disposition. The apparent suicide death of Soul Train creator and host Don Cornelius caught us all off guard, while immediately transporting us back to those more soulful days of yesteryear — pre-MTV days, when the music wasn’t just an afterthought but the main event.
We tuned into Soul Train each week to see our favorite soul and R&B stars, sometimes for the very first time. (The four sisters of Sister Sledge looked as cute as they sounded, and imagine my shock as a 6-year-old to discover that Elton John was white!) But we mostly showed up for the array of colorful dancers — to check out their moves, to see what they were wearing, and to imagine ourselves right there with them. We knew that if we didn’t see any other black images on TV all week, we could at least see ourselves on Soul Train every weekend. Don Cornelius, the radio-deejay-turned-television-impresario, gave that to us — a refuge for African American pride and empowerment disguised as a TV dance show.
In honor of Mr. Cornelius, we asked our UrbanFaith columnists and regular contributors to share their favorite memories of Soul Train. Check out their reflections below the video, and then share yours in the comments section. — Edward Gilbreath, editor
MEMORIES OF ‘SOUL TRAIN’
It was soon proven otherwise, but Don Cornelius through Soul Train, told me I was a good dancer. Every Saturday morning after cartoons went off, feeling like a grownup, I’d tune in to move to the music any kind of way just like the Soul Train dancers. Going down the Soul Train line, some of them looked so crazy. But at home, bounding through an imaginary line of people, so did I. Don Cornelius made it cool to love music enough to dance no matter what. By the time I came along, his ’fro wasn’t as big, but the cool he carried was bigger than life. And I felt just as hip rhythmlessly dancing with my own portion of soul. — DeVona Alleyne, staff editor and contributing writer
I am very saddened by the death of Don Cornelius, a black legend! Back in the ’70s and ’80s before the dominance MTV or BET, there were very few outlets to see my favorite R&B acts like Michael Jackson, New Edition, or DeBarge perform on television. Since my parents were pretty conservative at the time, I wasn’t allowed to watch Soul Train but as a lifelong R&B and pop culture aficionado, I found ways to watch this great show without “technically” breaking the rules. I wasn’t allowed to go inside of childhood friends’ homes either unless my parents knew their parents. I remember I had one friend who allowed me to literally sit on the pavement outside of her apartment. We would speak to each other through the open window, and if she happened to have Soul Train on the television behind her, who was I to say what she could watch inside her home? I remember that one light-skinned woman with extra long black hair that whipped around her body (pre-Willow Smith) as she danced on what seemed like nearly every episode for years! I couldn’t wait until I got a perm so I could whip my hair around like that! A towel wrapped around my head sufficed until I finally got a perm. I remember all of the fresh dance moves that would not be duplicated on American Bandstand, even though I was a fan of that show too. Simply put, there was nothing else like that show at that time, an oasis of black grooves and moves in a desert of white programming. RIP Don Cornelius … —Jacqueline J. Holness, contributing writer
I’ll never forget Soul Train, from the chugging train at the intro to the various incarnations of the Soul Train dancers. Don Cornelius made this show an institution that definitely shaped the culture and gave us memorable performances on the stage and dance floor. — Dr. Vincent Bacote, contributing editor
Being in a military family, every so often we’d get stuck in the boonies with no television we could relate to. When my dad got orders to a big urban city, we kids were ecstatic. It was my job to watch my younger siblings on Saturdays while my parents worked, and at the time when I announced SOUUULLL TRAINNNN is on, my brothers and sisters would run from outside like they’d lost their minds. Oh, and then the party was on. We bumped, spanked, wormed, or whatever the latest dance craze was, along with the hippest kids in America. If there had been just two or three more of us, we could have formed a Soul Train line right there in the living room. It grieves me to know that Don Cornelius couldn’t find another way; which serves to remind us that we must get the word out about the only One who can bring us out of our troubles, the only One Who can bring us out of the lies that Satan tells us when we see no way out. There is a world of hurting people who don’t really know Him. Someone needs to tell them. We need to tell them. — Wanda Thomas Littles, contributing writer
Despite being a child of the late 70s and 80s, I didn’t have many actual experiences of watching Soul Train. Most of my memories regarding Soul Train were at various school dances and wedding receptions growing up, when folks would start up “the soul train line” and line up to cut a step. Most of the influence of Soul Train I witnessed were in derivative television shows (like Solid Gold), subtle homages (like when Theo and Cockroach fought over who was getting into Dance Mania) or actual parodies (like In Living Color‘s “Old Train” sketch). Still, I got a little misty when I got the news of Don Cornelius’ passing. No one will ever really replace him and what he meant to the black community. — Jelani Greenidge, columnist
As a girl growing up in small-town New Jersey in the 1970s, my primary exposure to black culture was Soul Train, and oh how I loved Soul Train! It was sandwiched between Saturday-morning cartoons and Saturday-afternoon roller derby on our television station. It never occurred to me that by introducing me to some of that era’s best music and most accomplished musicians, Don Cornelius was drawing me into a richly textured world that was not available to me then. I just knew I loved hearing his smoky voice and dancing to the sounds of soul. It saddens me deeply to learn that, like my son, this gifted man apparently died by suicide. I’m reminded that depression and despair don’t only visit the downtrodden, but even the most accomplished among us. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. — Christine A. Scheller, news & religion editor
I remember the Jackson 5 barely had enough room to dance on that stage. Fans could literally touch Marvin Gaye as he sang (and they did). You could feel the sweat dripping off of Barry White’s collar. This was Soul Train, Black America’s debutante ball. As a child it always felt RAW, like a grown-folks party that I could only watch from the stairs. It seemed fun enough, but in reality Soul Train was about rebellion: finding a way to create in the midst of the chaos of injustice. Black people were thrown into America’s basement, and Don Cornelius found a way to host a house party there every Saturday. It remains our challenge to find hope in the midst of great darkness; to dance when the forces of life threaten to steal all rhythm. And when I look at black music today — videos that portray the worst potentialities for our young men and women, dancing that has turned into “Sex Lite,” and artists that lack intimacy and authenticity — we need not ever forget Soul Train. The truth is, we need it back. Thank you Don Cornelius, from the little boy who watched your party from the stairs. — Julian DeShazier, contributing writer
Sitting in my parents’ living room, the back of my legs sticking to the plastic covering mom’s gold velvet couch, the funky music from the Jacksons, the Sylvers, and Joe Tex would blare from the black-and-white screen. I would fix my eyes on the Afro puffs, braids, wide brim hats and bellbottoms, imagining their psychedelic colors (mom and pops did eventually get a color TV) as they danced the funky chicken or the robot. As Jermaine sang, they would be “movin, she’s groovin. Dancin’ until the music stops now, yeah” down the Soul Train line. My older sister and brothers would bust all the moves, blocking my view of the TV along the way. But back then, when you were the baby brother, you just kept quiet and thankful that they let you hang out with them on Saturday morning. We were raised in a 12th floor apartment in The Tilden Houses (The Projects) in Brownsville, Brooklyn (NY). Watching Soul Train was more than a temporary escape from what was immediately outside the door, down an elevator that often stuck, or the stairwell that was owned by depressed brothers and sisters high on dope. Soul Train was a weekly, encouraging dose of positive black life, of people who were happy, talented, and free. And they looked like me. Mr. Cornelius, you did a great thing, sir. I pray that your soul has found the peace that you wished for us all. — Wil LaVeist, columnist
"People who are stressed about money feel depressed, hopeless, and overwhelmed," says therapist LaTonya Mason. "It's hard for them to get out of bed in the mornings. They feel like they’re not holding up their end of the bargain."
As the recession continues to devastate our economy, one of the few professions benefiting from the downturn is the mental health industry. This sad irony is highlighted by media reports of suicides related to people’s financial situations. One Johns Hopkins University sociologist has even calculated that for every 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate, there’s an additional 47,000 deaths from suicides, heart attacks, homicides, and alcohol consumption.