"The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them..." (Psalm 34:17)
Suicide has always been one of those topics in the African American community you just do not talk about; nothing silences a conversation more suddenly than talk of someone who has taken their own life, whether a family member or friend. Regrettably, that silent topic is reinventing itself in a troubling manner.
The fact is we can no longer afford to neglect the mental health of our parishioners. The righteous are crying out!
Several years ago, Dr. Alvin Poussaint and Amy Alexander proscribed a book, Lay My Burden Down: Suicide and the Mental Healthy Crisis Among African Americans, about that very issue: the epidemic of suicide among blacks and its troubling trends.
Depression, of course, is ground zero for suicide. But for blacks, its much deeper than depression. In fact, depression is what America experiences; for black people it is post traumatic slavery syndrome.
We cannot, however, merely cite the institution of slavery as the point of departure for how blacks have adapted mentally to the American experience. Once slavery was outlawed, the American construct readapted its approach in dealing with the “Negro problem”.
Therefore, Poussaint and Alexander’s book remains a necessary reference for any dialogue or policy in dealing with how we as a people have adjusted (or not) to being black and “American”.
In a convincing and cogent argument, Poussaint and Alexander expound on the myriad reasons as to why so many African Americans suffer from depression and other mental health issues. Those issues, according to the authors, lay the groundwork for the ultimate act of self-aggression: suicide.
The authors studied black mental health from a specific era. Particular emphasis was placed on black males, as the trend of black male suicide tripled between the 1980’s and the end of the twentieth century.
Poussaint and Alexander detail the loss of hope that was the overriding factor in this trend.
Hope. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen and humankind’s most basic human possession. It is a quality that historically underpinned the ability of blacks to overcome the legacy of discrimination, segregation and unequal justice.
Poussaint and Alexander write: “the realities of modern life have begun to undermine the historic adaptations, the coping strategies that are part of the African American culture.”
Suicide in the black community was a problem a generation ago (and indeed likely has been since our arrival upon these shores). Today, the issue has not lessened. What is frightening is that suicide among black adults is beginning to filter down to black tweens and teens.
According to an article by Nick Charles on NBCBlk: A recent study in the Journal of Community Health showed that suicide rates among black girls ages 13-19 nearly doubled from 2001 to 2017. For black boys in the same age group, over the same period, rates rose 60 percent.
Have younger African Americans picked up on the coping skills of their elders and begun to pursue maladaptive ways to resolving their own crisis? It is a question that must be explored with urgency as America enters more precariously into the murky depths of the white backlash to the black problem in the age of Trumpism.
Lay My Burden requires the immediate and consistent attention from anybody who senses the urgency of self-destructive behaviors in a family member or friend and most importantly among our tweens and teens. It is a must-read for policy chieftains, faith leaders and grass-roots organizations.
It is imperative that black clergy begin to minister to the mental health of believers.
The righteous are crying out!
Pastor W. Eric Croomes Ministries Faith Influencer. Executive Director: The Charley and Dorothy Croomes Foundation. Creator of the Watch Your Life Series. I speak about the excellency of His name in all the earth and how that transforms our reality.