Young Black men killing each other in urban ghettos and rising levels of unemployment are threatening to drown us in a cycle of poverty and crime. The horror stories are well publicized and we’re well acquainted with the statistics of undereducation, unemployment, and overincarceration.
Despite those odds, there is a growing number of Black men who break free of the awful expectations and go on to pursue lives that don’t populate the top of the news. These men are also tremendous success stories. What most people overlook however is the mental health dangers that come along with not being a statistic.
Who cares about a Black boy’s blues? The truth is that most of this country’s policy efforts concerning Black men are directed at the issues of crime, education, and employment. Those issues are deserving but they’re not the only ones. Depression disproportionately affects the Black community and new research may suggest that Black men are particularly vulnerable to the disorder and suicide.
For years, depression has gone overlooked and untreated in the Black community because of the stigma associated with therapy, the lack of information regarding the disorder, and the cost of treatment. In the place of treatment, Black people are more likely to self-medicate with substances or do nothing. For a long time, misleading numbers supported the notion of a mentally healthy Black population. Although 12% of African-Americans males and White males suffer from depression respectively, less than 6% of African-Americans will receive mental health treatment. In addition, one in four African-Americans are uninsured, compared to 16% of the U.S. population overall. African-Americans are less likely to receive antidepressants; and when they do, they are more likely than Whites to stop taking them. What this results in is a perfect storm of mental disorder that leaves Black people, often men, particularly vulnerable to depression and its shadow of suicide.
Morehouse Man Shakir Stewart
According to the report released by the Office of the Surgeon General, depression is likely a key factor in a 233 percent increase in suicide in African-Americans males aged 10-14 from 1980 to 1995. Suicide was also the third leading cause of death for African-Americans in 2003. Other studies have shown however that suicidal ideation is particularly lower in African-Americans at historically Black colleges and universities. As affirming as the data found at HBCU’s may seem in finding possible pathways out of depression and suicide, while I have been a student at Morehouse College, 3 of my brothers have chosen to end their lives. One, a friend of mine, early this week.
It’s a misguided idea that once a Black man escapes the many snares that take the lives of so many of us in adolescence, we’re free and in the clear. There are tremendous stressors associated with achievement and sometimes the stigma of mental disorder can be magnified when set against an expectation to succeed. This week, the Huffington Post named Morehouse as one of the most grueling institutions in the country. I can attest to the ranking. But most significant is the fact that the pace of college can be especially challenging when combined with the challenges of young adulthood and being a Black man in general.
I conducted research 2 years ago at Morehouse related to depression. Our study was finished months before Def Jam Executive and Morehouse Man Shakir Stewart succumbed to suicide but after the loss of an enrolled student. What we found was startling. Of the students who participated in the study, nearly 13% reported having considered suicide.