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September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Black people have some of the highest rates of suicide in the U.S., but most people don’t know that. Of course, this is partly due to the way that racism often makes problems afflicting Black people less visible to White people, but it also reflects certain mythologies and stigmas surrounding suicide within the Black community. The reality of Black suicide in the U.S. is obscured by multiple misconceptions, including that suicide is a “revolutionary” response to racism; suicide is a “White Thing”; and suicide is anathema or an unforgivable sin. Combined, these mythologies and stigmas make it almost impossible to understand and address why Black youth and adults are choosing to end their lives at unprecedented rates.

First, the mythology that suicide is a “revolutionary” response to racism has deep historical roots still evident in various aspects of Black popular culture. For example, of all the powerful scenes in the original Black Panther movie, perhaps the most compelling occurred near the end, where Killmonger chose to end his own life, famously saying, “Just bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.” Killmonger’s decision to end his life rather than endure life without freedom signified an act of resistance, similar to that of the female slave in Toni Morrison’s book Beloved who jumped overboard during the Middle Passage, or the group of enslaved Africans who in May 1803 chose to leap to their death from a ship into Dunbar Creek off St. Simons Island in Georgia rather than endure enslavement. The notion of Black people choosing to end their lives and to live and die on their own terms, what Huey Newtown referred to as “revolutionary suicide,” is a powerful and appealing mythology surrounding Black suicide.

Second, the mythology that suicide is a “White Thing” also has deep historical roots that remain widely present today. This particular mythology was on full display in Dave Chapelle’s 2019 Netflix series Sticks & Stones in which he compared the suicide of Anthony Bourdain to the lack of suicide of his Black male friend. If you recall his description of the story, Chapelle had a friend who was an “Urban Genius” who had ascended from the Hood to the heights of an Ivy League education and law school but lost everything due to a divorce, and at age 45 was living with his mother and working as a manager at Foot Locker. However, the punchline was that despite this tragic fall, and delivered in a fashion that only Dave Chapelle could do, “the point of the story is…never occurred to this n—a to kill himself… he is alive and well in DC… I even suggested to him that he should even try it out….” The inference that Black people’s strength and resiliency must prevent them from “acting White” and choosing to end their life by suicide has long been a belief in the Black community.

Third, the mythology that suicide represents an “unforgivable sin” comes from two vastly different groups within the Black community. For members of the Black faith community, there is never a justification for taking one’s own life. In fact, some Christians view suicide as representing the highest form of betrayal and refer to the suicide of Judas Iscariot as proof of both sin and separation from God. For community activists and affiliates of progressive Black movements, the very idea of Black people choosing death over life is “anathema,” given that our lives are taken early by others.

As a clinician and a Black man, I can tell you that Black suicide is neither sin nor salvation; it is not acting White nor acting like a revolutionary. Black suicide is a complex issue that has evolved to the point where 2019, the same year that Dave Chapelle launched his Netflix Special, also marked a 20-year timeframe during which Black males had a 162 percent increase in suicide, making Black males have the highest suicide rate of any other cohort. During that same period, the suicide rate for Black females increased by 62 percent. Today, Black youths under the age of 13 have twice the rate of suicide of their White counterparts.

Beyond the statistics, the biggest problem with the mythology and stigma surrounding Black suicide is that they ignore the deep amount of suffering and despair that happens before and after suicide. For the individual who suffers from depression, suicidal ideation, or trauma, those myths and stigmas ignore the hopelessness, helplessness, feelings of worthlessness, and being a burden which can lead to Black youth and Black adults to feel like they have no other option. For the family members left behind, the mythology and stigma ignore the devastating impact of suicide on loved ones, who are often made to feel guilty about not seeing the signs or not having done more. For diverse groups within the Black community, they ignore or minimize significant differences in terms of the way suicide occurs. For example, while it is true that Black men and boys have higher rates of suicide, we do not talk enough about the escalating rate of suicide among Black girls. Nor do we give the attention that is deserved to the high suicide rates among the Black LGBTQIA community.

Most importantly, the mythology and stigma of Black suicide fail to communicate the fact that there is help and there is hope for Black youth and Black adults who may be at risk of ending their lives. Contrary to the idea that suicide is an act of weakness, I am always humbled by the strength and resilience it takes for individuals who suffer from clinical depression to overcome periods in their lives in which they are not able to do basic things like get out of bed, shower, bathe, or feed themselves. Similarly, I am always inspired by the fortitude demonstrated by individuals who are the victims of trauma but get to the point where they can speak back to a mind that was once relentless in telling them that they were useless and worthless, and that their friends and family would be better off if they were dead.


To effectively combat suicide in the Black community, we need to confront the mythology and stigma that still exist in our culture and focus on the signs and symptoms of mental illness. We also must address the systematic forms of racism, which devalue and demean Black life and create the catalytic elements for Black suicide to occur. We will restore hope and reclaim lives when we choose to acknowledge and not ignore Black lives lost to suicide. Black lives always matter!

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7 dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

This content was originally published here.