Suicide of Black Men Is On the Rise; Hopelessness Is the Driving Force

4798 Pastor Robert Angel thinks he knows why suicide rates among African-American men are rising.

Janey King (from left), Kavina Wallace and Kaziyah Tatum cry during a vigil Monday. Jeramie D. King killed his daughter, Jakyla, before killing himself.
"It's a lot of hopelessness in our community," he said, "and these men feel that they have no place to turn and no one to talk to. It's frightening, but what's more frightening is that we have hundreds of black men in our community who are ticking time bombs that we have to reach."

Angel, of Redemption Fellowship Church, spoke at an emotional vigil Monday in the front yard of a home near N. 51st St. and Fairmount Ave., where Jeramie D. King, 28, shot and killed his 6-year-old daughter, Jakyla, before taking his own life. Jakyla's funeral will be held Tuesday.

King was in a physical confrontation with Jakyla's mother, Kavina Wallace, last week. When Wallace reported the incident to police, King acted. At the vigil, King's mother held a picture of her son and asked those present to forgive him.

"If I could trade places with him, I would. I don't know why he did it. I don't have the answers. He loved his daughter. I'm just so hurt right now," Janey King said through tears.

While many in the black community believe that suicide is a "white issue," black men increasingly are taking their own lives. In Milwaukee, of the 93 suicides in 2006, 53 were white men, 13 were white women and 14 were black men. In 2009, of the 100 suicides in Milwaukee, 54 were white men, 20 were white women and 19 were black men.

The suicide rate has doubled for black males nationally since 1980, making it the third leading cause of death for black males, ages 15 to 24, trailing homicide and car accidents, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Suicide is still a taboo subject in the black community, where depression and other mental illnesses often are viewed as weakness. Years of conditioning cause one to wear a mask that carries with it a perceived "I don't give a...attitude." Holding in pain -- especially for young people living in violent communities -- can lead to depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

"What we have to do now is reach back and make sure that these young people have someone to talk to so that they don't have to suffer in silence," Angel said.

Brenda Wesley of the Milwaukee Chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness said more than 60% of blacks don't see depression as a mental illness, which makes it unlikely they will seek help if they need it.

Most of the experts I talked to about suicide cited hopelessness and a lack of mental health care as root causes, and it's not hard to see why black men are depressed. Wisconsin leads the nation in incarceration rates of black males -- which is the No. 1 barrier to employment, second only to education. By one estimate, Milwaukee's "real" unemployment rate for black men is 44.7%.

Wesley agreed that addressing hopelessness is important, but she said until the stigma is removed from mental illness and black men feel comfortable seeking help, little will change.

Source: Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel | James E. Causey
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