Black male suicides are on the rise. There is a silent epidemic that is plaguing our Black males. The rate of depression has quadrupled among Black males in the last 20 years. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death for Black males ages 15-24. Additionally, of the 1500 children ages 6-12 who have committed suicide in the last 10 years, 36% were Black males. These statistics indicate that a generation of young Black males are growing up feeling hopeless, helpless, and ashamed. Furthermore, these young Black males are experiencing a chronic devaluation that has contributed to a posture of worthlessness and a feeling that their beautiful Black lives will not be missed if they are ended prematurely. What was once considered a “White problem” has robbed even the youngest of our Black males of fulfilling and impactful lives.
Self-hatred and silent frustration are major contributors. Black males are constantly bombarded with negative images of Black masculinity and conflicting expectations of their Blackness that lead them to both hate and fear those that look like them. As Black males struggle to live up to the conflicting expectations of their Black maleness, their hatred and fear towards other Black males turns inward and they begin to hate themselves. Silent frustration stems from Black males feeling unable to influence their surroundings and developing feelings of rage and anger towards society and their communities. These feelings create conflict within the Black male because of the conundrum of being angry at something that he feels he cannot change or influence.
This rage then moves from the society, to his community, and then ultimately within himself. Unable to verbalize the underlying feelings of shame and guilt (due to a restricted emotionality) this rage manifests as acts of violence shattering his interpersonal relationships and support systems within his community. Isolated and alone, the Black male develops feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness because of the constellation of emotions he is experiencing (shame, rage, and guilt) and the perceived lack of adaptive outlet for their expression and processing. With their coping resources exhausted and feeling isolated from their support systems, these Black men are regulated to suffering in silence, frustrated with their experience of racism/ and discrimination, and their perceived inability to effectively manage this conflict.
Suicide is preventable. The combination of self-hatred and frustration can contribute to a deafening silence for Black males that prevents them from hearing messages of affirmation in the face of feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. However, there are three steps we can take to show these Black males that we care and connect them to the help they need: (1) ask direct questions, (2) don’t dismiss, and (3) identify opportunities for support. Ask an individual directly and with specific questions if you are concerned about them hurting themselves. For example, ask “are you having thoughts of hurting yourself” or “have you thought about ending your life” vs “are you thinking about not being here” or “do you wish you could go to sleep and not wake up.” Take any communication about suicide or self-harm seriously and do not dismiss as a call for attention, a sign of weakness or inability to handle a situation, or a phase. Lastly, be prepared to offer resources or support if the answer is “yes” to thoughts of self-harm or suicide. A helpful resource is the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline which you can find here.