THE MURDER rate among young African-American men is so high that little notice has been given the dramatic increase in suicide among the same group. But it makes sense. Young black men are growing up in environments, urban and suburban, where mass culture exhorts them to be either star athletes or the ill-educated caricatures of the poster children for violence, drug abuse and risky sexual behavior they see in music videos and hip-hop magazines. Unable to be "all that," many become alienated and depressed. Some decide their lives must be worthless.
Thus, suicide has become the third-leading killer of young black men, behind homicides and accidents. As reported Monday by Sun reporter James Bock, the suicide rate among African-American males, ages 15 to 19, increased by 196 percent between 1980 and 1994. Compare that to a 24 percent increase among young white men. Among black men ages 20 to 24, the suicide rate increased 25 percent, compared to a 5 percent increase for young white men.
New organizations such as the non-profit Free Mind Generation of Atlanta are trying to draw attention to the problem. Its founder, Kenya Napper Bello, publishes a newsletter called "Black Men Don't Commit Suicide." But when eight times as many young black men are murdered -- 4,200 in 1994 -- it's hard to get the public's attention. The growing suicide rate among young black men must not be ignored. It is more evidence of a sense of hopelessness that leads to other destructive behavior as well.
Of course, one should not generalize about why people decide to take their own lives; each case is different. But it is easy to see a link between the increase in suicides among young black men and the tough-guy "gangsta" image that the mass media too often use to represent them. Tough guys don't admit they need help.
Then, too, a common belief among African-Americans has always been that they don't commit suicide, that they don't need professional intervention to deal with depression. In fact, 73 percent of all suicides are by white males. But the increase in suicides among black youths tells another story. The numbers say young black men are dropping out, in more ways than one. It's time we all paid attention.
Pub Date: 12/13/96