The Stigma of Black Suicide is Killing Us

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The Stigma of Black Suicide is Killing Us

When the first news reports of Robin Williams’ death hit the media, few questioned the report that the country's most beloved comedian had committed suicide.

This reaction stands in stark contrast to the reaction to the 2012 news of the death of "Soul Train" creator Don Cornelius. Cornelius was found dead in his home after committing suicide with a firearm. Many African Americans believed Cornelius must have been murdered by an intruder, even after the official report.

Although one death involved a firearm, and distrust of the government runs deep in our communities of color, the myth that "black folks don't get depressed, we get the blues" persisted. And, unfortunately, an opportunity to talk about suicide in the African diasporic communities was missed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that black suicide is not only on the rise, but that suicide claims at least one African American every 4.5 hours.

And black males have a higher suicide rate than their counterparts.

I can identify at least five factors contributing to suicide in communities of African descent which, for the most part, go unaddressed: untreated mental illness, homophobic bullying, religion, “Cop-Assisted Suicide”, and the “Strong Black Woman Syndrome”.

Untreated Mental Illness

The leading cause of suicide in African diasporic communities are not only the cultural stigma about mental illness, but also the barriers to mental health treatment. While health care disparities undoubtedly contributing to the problem, so, too, the dearth of mental health professional—therapists, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. According to the 2010 data from the American Association of Suicidology "Just 4 percent of the nation's psychiatrists, 3 percent of the psychologists and 7 percent of social workers, are black."

Homophobic Bullying
LGBTQ African Americans residing in black communities are frequently the subjects of bullying, which often times lead to their death by suicide or gang violence. 

In 2009 Ms. Walker found her son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, hanging by an extension cord on the second floor of their home after he endured endless anti-gay and homophobic taunts by schoolmates, although Carl never identified as gay.

When I went to speak that year at the Anti-Bullying Community Forum and Vigil in reference to Carl’s death some kids in the black community of Springfield I spoke with about the incident said Carl’s gender expression was queer, implying that there existed sufficient