The recent news confirming the death of Ian Alexander Jr., the only child of award-winning actor Regina King, was met with expressions of condolence throughout the entertainment industry and across social media. But the cause of his death, suicide, and his age, just 26, have only added to her grief.
The family has asked for “respectful consideration during this private time,” choosing not to elaborate on the details behind his tragic and untimely death.
However, it does underline a significant and disturbing trend among Black youth – one which reveals an increase for Black girls that stands at twice that for Black boys. Suicide now represents a devastating problem among Black youth with researchers and mental health professionals anxious to understand why and how to best address it.
In a paper published on Sept. 8, 2021, in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers extracted disturbing information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) databases. The numbers are shocking: 1,810 Blacks between the ages of 5 and 17 died by suicide between 2003 and 2017.
Janelle Goodwill, a psychologist and social worker at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, while not involved in the research, said the numbers counter the long-held assumption that suicide rates among young white individuals are higher than those among young Black people.
Further, because the paper only analyzed data through 2017, it does not include figures for the COVID-19 pandemic. A CDC study published in August 2020 reported that in late June of that year, more than one-quarter of young adults had contemplated suicide within the past 30 days.
Clearly, King’s son Ian needed help – help that either he never received or that no one recognized he needed.
But one thing is certain: we must find a way to reduce, if not eliminate, the stigma related to mental health treatment that has long persisted in Black communities and families. In addition, we must be willing to encourage our youth to share their concerns without fear of what or how we may feel.
Then, we must get them the professional help they need.
Collectively, we can eradicate the pernicious message of “worthlessness” that has been drummed into the heads of Black youth so that young Blacks in America will know that “their lives are full of meaning and purpose.”
That’s a message that should undergird the Black Lives Matter movement.