Friday, November 03, 2006

Study could dispel myth about blacks and suicide

from the AP: "More U.S. blacks attempt suicide than previously thought, according to a landmark study that could help explode the myth that black suicides are rare because of a mind-set that took hold during slavery."

Highlights:
...there is a common misconception that suicide is rare in the black community because of cultural and religious beliefs dating back to slavery times...

The study is the first to look at suicidal behavior among the two leading ethnic groups within the U.S. black community _ African-Americans and Caribbean Americans.
The lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts was much higher among Caribbean-American black men, at 7.5 percent, suggesting that about 53,000 try at least once to kill themselves.
The reasons for that relatively high rate are uncertain. Although the study lacked data on how long Caribbean-American blacks and their ancestors had been in this country, it is likely many were more recent arrivals than African Americans and thus more vulnerable to frustrations with discrimination and other societal pressures...

Historically, suicide was taboo in the black community going back to slavery times, at least partly because "it was really frowned on by the black church," said Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard University psychiatry professor and race relations specialist. "It was a stigma and it brought shame to your family."
Blacks "thought life was supposed to be hard for them," and that may have helped protect them from suicide, Poussaint said.
Interestingly, suicide attempts in the study were least common among blacks in the South, where that mind-set may linger from slavery times, he said.
OK, I have mixed feeling about why people think this study is such a shock. Of course I'm proud to be part of a people who've proven to have an amazing resiliency and incredible faith. I say faith, because, as Tavis Smiley pointed out, it's not/it wasn't hope. There was very little to give us hope.

But I worry that such resiliency is misinterpreted as an excuse to mistreat, to disdain, to exclude. Sort of a "They're black. They can take it."

What this study may show is that, resilience aside, the things we face in this country--the opposition, the racism, the poor health care, the inadequate educational system, the justice (hah) system, the stigma, stigma, stigma--takes its toll on us, as a people and as individuals. Yes, we can survive, but we want so much more than survival.

And I think it's especially telling that rates among young black men are rising.

2 comments:

ChasingMoksha said...

Sort of a "They're black. They can take it."

Yes and there is a strong sentiment that blacks do not seek help for depression. As if depression brands one "damaged" or is a white person's disease/problem.

My child hood friend brother killed himself in 1995. He hung himself off his parent's back patio. No one, including my friend would admit he had hung himself. They all concluded it was an accident. That he had done it before in order to scare his mother into giving him what he wanted. Yet no one was home when he did it.

nubian said...

for reals!

i asked a question in class, what is at stake when we position black folks as ALWAYS resisting?

--i mean, what do we gloss over if we only point out that we are "surviving." mental illness and suicide are things that, i think, demonstrate the neccessity of addressing this question.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...