Friday, April 18, 2008

In-depth: Suicide in the Black Community

Go to Louisiana Weekly original
DALLAS (Special to the NNPA from the Dallas Examiner) - Theories continue to abound surrounding the deaths of Rufus and Lynn Flint Shaw, a couple with New Orleans roots, who were found shot to death in their Oak Cliff home March 10.

The case has raised the painful issue about suicide, particularly in the Black community.

The husband and wife team were victims of an apparent murder-suicide pact, where it's speculated that Rufus, 56, shot Lynn, 53, then took his own life.

In the book, Lay My Burden Down, noted Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint and writer Amy Alexander analyze how much of the Black community - determined to be victors, not victims - strive to downplay issues of mental illness, depression and resulting suicides within the culture.

"It is very much a misperception that Black people don't commit suicide and that comes in part from a need, the very real and legitimate need, for Black people, for many years to be very strong," Alexander is quoted as saying in a book review by Alexander had an older brother who committed suicide.

"They [Blacks] see mental disorder and depression as a sign of personal weakness or moral failure," said Poussaint, who considered his brother's slow and painful death from heroin abuse as a precipitated form of suicide.

DeSoto pastor of Lifeway Church, Dr. Karen Hollie discusses the stereotype regarding suicide among Blacks as well as the way Blacks deal with pain.

"There are some stigmas involved. We particularly don't engage in that kind of thing," said Dr. Hollie, who was a practicing psychological therapist and counselor for 25 years, before leaving her practice two years ago, now applying her training as pastor of Johnson Chapel Community Church, also in DeSoto before going on to Lifeway.

"We have a different set of coping skills that we employ for a lot of things," Hollie said. "The helplessness and the hopelessness is not the same. We seem to have some other avenues that we employ and some just say we have some economic implications for it that makes a difference. We generally just don't fall into that."

According to an article published in the Journal of Black Psycology, Felicia Griffin-Fennell and Michelle Williams attribute the reluctance of Blacks and women to kill themselves to their religious convictions, turning to God for help in times of distress and believing that He has full authority over life and death. Many site the fear of eternal damnation as a reason for their reluctance to attempt or complete suicide.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control suggests that from 1988 to 1992, white males were 12 times more likely to kill themselves than Black males and white women more than 15 times more likely than Black women. Authors of Racial Differences in Hopelessness as a Risk Factor for a Nearly Lethal Suicide Attempt, in the Aug. 1, 2006 issue of the Journal of Black Psychology, say that suicide is about hopelessness, adding that a better understanding of racial differences in hopelessness and suicide may result in more effective interventions to slow the increasing Black American suicide rate.

According to a 2003 report by the National Institute of Health, "On an average day in the United States, one African American dies by suicide every 4.5 hours."

Poussaint stated the birth, growth and adopting of blues music as an example of how many Blacks just learned to deal with their oppressing and depressing times.


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