Henry Ford Health System psychologist Dr. Carnigee Truesdale says African-Americans, specifically, see suicide and depression as stigmas, where mental illness is often viewed as a weakness. She says there’s a mentality that African-Americans have where they should be able to handle and manage everything without an immense amount of struggle.
“My best guess is just that it’s culture. I think most people of color, they’re races that have a history of struggle, prejudice and racism,” Truesdale explains. “We’ve had to deal and overcome so much that I think it’s ingrained that in order to make it in society, you have to always do your best.”
A recent study from Georgia State University found that suicide was rarely, if ever, discussed within the African-American community. Some participants even stated that they weren’t aware suicide and depression were major issues until that study. But one African-American dies by suicide every 4 1/2 hours, and suicide attempts of African-American males exceed both Caucasian males and females in the United States.
According to the Oakland County Mental Health Authority, one in four families are affected by mental illness, which is a biologically based health condition. A key component of mental illness is recognizing the difference between the normal sadness and daily stress that people experience, vs. the prolonged struggle with overwhelming and consistent dejection, Truesdale says.
Depression and other mental illnesses are one of the main risk factors for suicide in both children and adults, according to the NIMH, which also lists these as other common risk factors for suicide:
Prior suicide attempt
Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
Family history of suicide
Firearms in the home
Family violence, including physical and sexual abuse
Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family, peers or media figure
If you feel that you or someone you know is at risk for depression or suicide, Truesdale says that you should contact a mental health professional (social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.) as soon as possible. If you aren’t sure where to find a mental health professional, she recommends going to your primary care physician to get pointed in the right direction.
If you are in crisis and need help right away, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—a toll-free number available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Wayne County Intervention, Suicide Prevention Information Referral Helpline also is accessible by calling 313-224-7000 or 800-241-4949.
Read more about the silent epidemic of suicide in the African American community.