A major health issue that affects thousands of people each year is suicide, according to experts on the medical condition.
In 2011, almost 40,000 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
“It is the third leading cause of death among African Americans ages 15-24. Even though we are killing ourselves fewer times at a lower rate, it’s a big concern as to why is it happening at younger ages,” he said.
Donna Holland Barnes, PhD, project director for the Suicide Prevention Program in the Department of Psychiatry at Howard University, told the AFRO, African American men ages 15-24 are committing suicide more often.
According to the U.S. Census, 45 percent of the D.C. African American population is men, with ages 15-24 representing a significant portion of its population.
The African American community, overall, demonstrates risky behavior that could lead to suicide, she said.
“We have very high rates of suicidal behavior, which can lead to death,” Barnes said. “So we need to be very cognizant of that.”
Mental disorders, such as depression, are major risk factors for suicide. Clinical depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting more than 19 million Americans each year, according to Mental Health America, community-based network dedicated to helping all Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives located in Alexandria, Va.
Although, African Americans statistically have more experiences that increase their risks of depression – including oppression and racism – it is often under-diagnosed and misdiagnosed in the African-American community, Donald Grant, a socio-cultural analyst told the AFRO.
However, even though there are very high rates of suicidal behavior in the African American community, African-American suicide rates in 2011 were much lower in comparison to other groups at 5.3 percent compared to 14.5 percent of Whites but there are still significant concerns, Grant said.
A stigma, however, exists about mental illness that prevents African Americans from seeking help, Kevin Chapman, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist at the OCD Institute of Louisville, told the AFRO.
“ental health in the African-American community is often equated with being viewed as ‘crazy,’” Chapman said.
“From a Christian perspective, my own experience would suggest that mental health providers who are well versed in Biblical principles, are well received when one’s faith is an important component of mental health treatment,” he said. “Furthermore, the church has historically been a source of support and strength for the African-American community.”
Chapman also said it is important that mental health professionals remain culturally sensitive when treating patients.
“Mental health treatment is extremely effective when implemented by a culturally proficient, competent mental health provider who is willing to ‘roll up his or her sleeves’ and ‘get real.’”
Afiya M. Mbilishaka, PhD, president of the D.C. Chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists, told the AFRO there is a mistrust of medical workers in the African American community.
Medical and mental health professionals described how African-American people have been “chronically mistreated and even killed by physicians” through medical experimentations, she said.
“To address the stigma, community gatekeepers such as pastors, teachers, barbers, and hair stylists can be trained in mental health screening and evidence-based counseling techniques,” Mbilishaka said.
She also said mental illness may appear differently in African Americans than in Whites – through somatic complaints and hypersensitivity. African Americans may display initial lack of self-disclosure.
According to the mental health network, clinical depression is very treatable. More than 80 percent of those who seek treatment show improvement. Depression cannot be self-treated. It has to be treated by a physician or qualified mental health professional through anti-depressants, psychotherapy, or both.
Howard University offers a course every second Wednesday of the month on recognizing these signs. The next one is October 8. They also provide a support group called “Survivors Circle” for families who have lost someone to suicide.
The National Suicide Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, transfers D.C. residents to the Department of Health and Human Services, where they can receive a list of local resources. To get listings of Black psychologists in Washington, D.C., contact the Association of Black Psychologists, located in Fort Washington, Md., at 301-449-3082 or visit their website at http://www.abpsi.org/.