Suicide Watch: After Homicides and Accidents, Suicide Is the Third-Leading Cause of Death among Black Youth

By Chappell, Kevin | Ebony, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Suicide Watch: After Homicides and Accidents, Suicide Is the Third-Leading Cause of Death among Black Youth


Chappell, Kevin, Ebony


If you were like me, you were shocked by the news of the death of the 18-year-old son of Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy. You were shocked that a young man with a chance to have such a bright future would feel so overwhelmed by certain aspects of his life that he would ultimately conclude that his only way out was to take his own life.

But even beyond who he was, or the multitude of things that he had going for him, if you were like me, you were simply shocked that an African-American teenager would commit suicide. Wasn't suicide a White thing?

Well, it might surprise you to know that it's not. In recent years, there has been an alarming rise in the suicide rate among African-Americans, particularly Black men.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 1980, the suicide rate for Whites aged 10-19 was 157 percent greater than that of Blacks. By 1995 there was only a 42 percent difference. Whites are still more likely to commit suicide than Blacks, but the suicide rate for all African-Americans doubled between 1980 and 1996.

In 2002, the latest year that statistics are available, the number of Blacks who committed suicide had tripled from the total 25 years ago. Of those, 84 percent were Black males. Teens are of particular concern.

And while it's true that everyone feels depressed at one time or another, when that feeling is paired with hopelessness, the result can be devastating. Experts say the most common reasons given for attempted suicides by teen suicide survivors were spats with a boyfriend or girlfriend, arguments with parents, school problems and sexual identity issues. These are equally true with White and Black teens, and even more so as an increasing number of Blacks move from traditional Black communities and into White suburbs.

Historians say part of the problem can be traced back to slavery, when it was believed that Blacks were incapable of feeling inner pain. …

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