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Why suicide is increasing among black men


(1996, August 12). "Why suicide is increasing among black men." Jet Magazine, p. 12.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have statistics that show a recent significant increase in suicide deaths among young black men—from 354 in 1987 to 536 in 1993. Despite the statistics, there’s a myth in the black community that blacks do not commit suicide. "Suicide is a white thing, it’s not a black thing," the myth claims. The truth is that suicide is more prevalent among young black men; in fact, according to a recent study, it is the third leading cause of death among black men.

Why is the suicide rate increasing among black men? Jet interviewed several experts across the country who cited a number of reasons for the increase of suicide. Theories included drug and alcohol abuse, the easy availability of guns, poverty, the high unemployment rate, and the pressures of young middle class blacks fighting racism in corporate America.

Reverend Cecil L. Murray, pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles notes, " ‘Despair is increasing, and that despair is economic, political, educational, and social.’ " He notes that the breakdown of the family leaves " ‘the young adult male without a hands-on mentor…the divorce rate is 50%; the rate of birth out of wedlock approaches 75% in impoverished communities, so the wheel of difficulty keeps spinning more rapidly.’ " Murray adds, " ‘America is getting angrier and meaner, and those who are without an economic base find an outlet in self-destructive behavior more than those who have other options.’ "

Dr. Sherry Molock, Psychology Professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and Director of Clinical Training for the university’s Psychology Department, suggests that poverty and unemployment contribute to the increase of suicide among black men. Dr. Molock notes, " ‘Some of the men I work with have no hope for the future; they live day by day.’ "

Dr. Carl Bell, President and CEO of the Community Mental Health Council in Chicago, points out that young black men are presently experiencing more stress. " ‘Stress does a lot of things to people,’ " Dr. Bell says, " ‘it causes them to use drugs and not have a sense of the future, which causes the desire to commit suicide, and in a sense, drug abuse is a slow suicide.’ "

Dr. Zia Wahid, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Meharry Medical College in Nashville and Medical Driector of Meharry Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program, agrees that drugs and alcohol abuse are the leading causes for the rise in suicide. " ‘Drugs and alcohol make it harder for them to keep a job and maintain an apartment; as they lose their jobs or lose their relatinship, they get very depressed.’ "

Dr. Molock, currently conducting research on suicide at black colleges, agrees that stress from society makes some black men want to take their lives. " ‘You’ll be surprised to find in the suburbs, you have middle income black youth who have gone to college, but the type of jobs that they anticipate they are going to get they are unable to get because of the trend of affirmative action being dismantled. That’s frustrating.’ " She adds that some middle-class blacks are seeing their parents still struggling in corporate America because of racism: " ‘They are seeing their parents hitting glass ceilings; parents who say, "I play by the rules I got the degree, and now you’re telling me, I am only going to get so far?" ’ "

Alex Crosby, a medical epidemiologist in the CDC violence prevention division, worked on the recent suicide study. He tells Jet that another factor contributing to the high rate is a history of violence. Crosby notes that children who have either been victims of or witnesses to abuse are at greater risk for suicide. He adds, "and children who know someone who has completed a suicide are also at risk for suicide." Crosby warns that the suicide rate of young black males may catch up with those of their white counterparts. In 1980, there were 3,881 suicides among white males, ages 15 to 24; in 1993, there were 3,433 suicides among white males in the same group the study revealed.

Dr. Frederick B. Phillips, President of the Progressive Life Center in Washington, D.C., a behavioral health and management counsulting firm, says that young black men have not developed the proper mechanisms to cope with pain and stress: " ‘They don’t know how to deal with emotional pain; our youth are lonely and that is frightening, that is sad. They are depressed. They don’t know how to get through the day. Each day is a struggle to maintain, to hold on, just to get through.’ "

Ron Hampton, Executive of the National Black Police Association, Inc. in Washington, D.C., suggests that easy access to guns may contribute to the increase of suicide. Guns are so prevalent in black communities because police do not patrol the neighborhoods as they do in the white areas, Hampton notes. Interestingly, according to the CDC study, about 63% of black suicide victims use guns to kill themselves. Dr. Eric G. Bing, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, agrees that gun availability contributes to the suicide rate in the black community, telling Jet, " ‘Guns are epidemic in our society.’ "

How do we stop these suicides? According to Dr. Molock, " ‘Black men must learn to reach out and find constructive ways to share their emotional pain.’ " She adds that "black women are better connected. They go to church more; black women network with other black women and men don’t."


  1. Have you known of any African-American adolescent male who has contemplated, attempted, or committed suicide? What was his particular situation? Were the signs and symptoms clear?
  2. How do the reasons for suicide explain his desire to commit suicide?
  3. What can you do to reverse the trend?


    • For the suicide rate to slow down within the black population, several changes need to occur. Gun availability needs to become much more stringent. The economy of African-Americans must improve. Black men need to be taught that it is okay—even healthy—to share their feelings with others. Black men need purpose and vision. They need to feel connected, and they need safe outlets to release their stress.
    • Youth workers are essential for halting the suicide rate. Reach out to African American teenage boys. Give them a purpose. Earn their trust and show the strength in being vulnerable to others. Encourage them in their education. Show them nonviolent ways to handle conflict.
    • As youth workers effectively reach African American adolescents, they are helping entire African American families. This type of work has powerful potential.

Anonymous and Kathryn Q. Powers cCYS