Black Suicide Rate Surges

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I called an old family friend a few weeks ago. I wasn’t prepared for what I was going to hear.

Actually this man was one of my late father’s closest friends, a workmate of his at a GM plant and a fellow member at one of the local buildings of worship. He and his family only lived a block away. Both he and my dad were WWII veterans. I call this guy about once a year and he was always pleasant and encouraging to talk to. This time things were different. What I listened to this time around was a perfect stranger, a broken man.

I remarked that he didn’t sound like his usual self, and he flat-out replied he didn’t want to live anymore. Just like that. I can’t even remember what I said next, this man was someone people could always count on. I reminded him that he still had a wife, and three kids whom I came up with, and grandchildren. He replied that he didn’t care anymore. I told him he was an elder in the congregation and he was one who always kept us straight and narrow. I asked him why he now felt like cashing-in. He said he found out he had cancer a few months ago, and since then he developed an alcohol problem. Not him, I never saw him take a drink in my life. That wasn’t all. He was about to be ousted from the church, excommunicated.
He put down the phone and his wife told me it was true, they were to announce that this man, who once presided over this congregation for 35 years, and fixed cars free of charge, for poor friends so they could attend their religious conventions, was to be cut off from communication, for alcoholism.

Needless to say I was stunned for several days, but promised to check on him frequently. The strange thing is his cancer is very treatable but just knowing he had it drove him into an even worse dilemma. It made me wonder how much our whole self-esteem hinges on just one thing and once it’s lost, that’s it. I went through life writing off suicide as a white concern.

Over the years however several factors have closed this gap between Blacks and white, and I come to find that the very culture that we live in today facilitates suicidal thoughts among Blacks.

According to the Suicide and Mental Health Association International (SMHAI), back in ’96, suicide was the 9th leading cause of death in the US. Half a million attempted to take their life that year, 31,000 succeeded. Back then white men 85 and over led the way, with men four  times more likely to end it all than women. SMHAI also noted that the factors contributing to Black suicides; racism, discrimination, poverty, and exclusion from mainstream society, are the same factors that we successfully coped with in times past. What is the difference today? Data from the Center for Disease Control shows that from 1980-95, suicides from Black males 15-19 increased 105%., and much of this was due to lack of counsel and treatment. (There is every indication that these rates continue to increase.) Black men 20-24 aren’t far behind in this.

What I see in both young and old Blacks is high hopes and a lack of dialogue based on what they should expect to encounter because of their skin color.

Black Star contributing columnist Stevenson writes for the Buffalo Criterion, Email comments to Stevenson at

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