The recent suicides of Black notables on the national and Washington, D.C. area levels have many experts talking about effective ways to reduce the disturbing trend.
Actress Regina King’s son, Ian Alexander Jr., died by suicide on Jan. 21 while Moses J. Moseley, an actor with “The Walking Dead” television series took his own life on Jan. 26. “Extra” television correspondent and Miss USA 2010 Cheslie Kryst killed herself on Jan. 30, just days after Hyattsville, Md., Mayor Kevin Ward ended his own life on Jan. 25.
The American Federation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) released a statement regarding the death of Kryst.
“As an outspoken advocate for racial equality, Kryst’s death is a difficult loss for the Black community,” the statement said. “We must recognize that Black communities continue to face long-standing socioeconomic, cultural, and other barriers – and critical to preventing suicide is dependent on the mental health care, support, or services they need. Systemic racism, as well as historical barriers and inequities, have also led communities to face trauma, loss and bias for an extended period over generations which can also contribute to suicide risk.”
The AFSP reports that suicide stands as the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2019, 47,511 Americans died of suicide with an estimated 1.38 million suicide attempts occurring in the same year.
Men died by suicide 3.63 times as often as women. On average, around 130 suicides occur each day in the U.S. In 2019, 69.38% of all suicide deaths occurred with the use of firearms.
While white males have long led statistics for suicide, a 3% percent dip would be reported in 2019 within that group while a 3% increase occurred among Black men, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tandra Rutledge, an anti-suicide activist who resides in the Greater Chicago area and serves as a member of AFSP’s board, said Blacks must address suicide and mental health awareness.
“In the Black community, we must change the conversation around mental health,” Rutledge said. “We don’t talk about it. When we try to, we are told that we are lacking in faith or to pray about it. We don’t have a good understanding about mental health well-being.”
Dr. Barbara J. Bazron, director of the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health, said every person must pay attention to their mental health, adding that warning signs related to suicide should not be ignored.
“Some of the warning signs are a feeling of hopelessness, feeling trapped, radical changes to normal personality, feeling agitated, a change in sleeping habits and acting differently from what is normal,” she said.
“There are many people who are self-medicating because of COVID-19. They are overly using alcohol and drugs to deal with life. An example could be a person who used to drink one glass of wine a day now drinks five glasses. COVID-19 has stressed many people who now have to deal with housing and financial problems that they haven’t had before,” Bazron said.
Bazron agrees with Rutledge that Blacks should seek health if they aren’t feeling mentally well.
“It is okay to seek help,” she said. “We as Black people have a stigma regarding mental health services. If you have to, go see a doctor. You cannot pray it away.”
Bazron said in the District, teachers and principals and other school personnel must periodically complete a course that better equips them to recognize signs of mental distress in children. Additionally, D.C. has a school-based behavioral health program where one clinician works at each public and charter school.
Bazron said if a person expresses the desire to kill themselves, action must be taken quickly.
“If someone tells you they want to harm themselves, you must call 911 immediately,” she said. “That is for a medical emergency.”
Bazron said being socially connected, like with a church or a fraternal organization, often benefits those who may be mentally vulnerable.
“In the District, we are blessed to offer a wide array of services and support for prevention and intervention,” she said.