Black men, suicide and social media: An untapped resource in promoting mental health

September 25, 2015

By Janelle R. Goodwill, MSW***

The lived experiences of black men have oftentimes been misunderstood and largely ignored. That is, until videos of black men dying at the hands of police surfaced on what seemed to be a weekly basis via social media. Since then, we as a nation have been inundated with discussions of police brutality and community-police relations, but have yet to seriously consider the impact that these events and experiences have had on the psychological and emotional health of black men witnessing these tragic and traumatic events. For example, some black men watch the videos of other black men being killed and see themselves reflected in those images.

Although fruitful, these conversations have not holistically addressed current struggles faced by black men, and how these events impact their overall wellbeing. While discussions of homicide and police brutality persist, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among black men ages 15-19 and 19-24 (2013). This high prevalence of suicide demonstrates that black men are not only fighting a battle when they step outside into their communities, but they are also fighting a battle in their minds. Racism, high rates of incarceration, the need to conform to masculine norms, and the looming threat of police brutality are just a few stressors that black men must learn to navigate in order to survive (Hill-Wagner & Seminar, 2010; Bennett & Joe, 2015).

Despite being a taboo topic within many communities of color, the need for mental health care is real. In addition to understandable concerns about the conditions of the world they live in, anxiety, depression and suicide impact the daily lives of many black men, irrespective of age and economic background. Mental health challenges have never just been a matter of access to care, as even some of the wealthiest and most well known persons of color have experienced mental illness.

We would be remiss if we continued to ignore the serious issue of mental health within black communities, particularly among black men, whose incidence of suicide have exceeded that of black women (Joe & Kaplan, 2001; Griffin-Fennell & Williams, 2006).

Recently, the tragic case of Vester Flanagan, (a black male who captured and posted a video of himself shooting a news reporter, camera man, and local woman being interviewed, before killing himself) highlights the perils of possible untreated mental illness coupled with experiences of perceived racism in the workplace:

Vester Flanagan 1
(Pictured above is a screenshot from Flanagan’s Twitter account, retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/08/26/gunman_vester_flanagan_s_twitter_fb_profiles_why_they_shouldn_t_have_been.html)

 

But he’s not the only one.

The following is a list of both notable and lesser-known black men who recently took their own lives. I began generating this list in the fall of 2014 and have since continued to monitor Internet sources that report these stories (i.e. social media sites, gossip columns, personal blogs, etc.):

Kenny McKinley (23), OJ Murdock (25), Jovan Belcher (25), Dave Duerson (50), [all NFL Players]; Lee Thompson Young – Actor (29), Don Cornelius– Television Host (75), Teddy Parker, Jr.- Pastor (42), Chris Lighty– Record Executive (44), Jamal Dewar “Capital Steez”- Rapper (19), Dayvon Maurice Green– Graduate Student (23), Carl Walker-Hoover (11), Julian St. John– Artist (24), Yusuf Neville– Service Manager (29), Andre Booker– Army Staff Sgt. (30), Julian Jones (16), Kalief Browder– Student (22), and many others whose stories did not make the news.

While friends and family have used social media to mourn the lives of their loved ones, many other black men also utilized social media to directly or subtly express their intentions and feelings before committing suicide.

Seattle based YouTube sensation and rapper Freddy E (Fredrick E. Bhul) released a series of chilling tweets on the same day he died that pointed to alarming signs. One excerpt reads, “If there’s a God then He’s calling me back home. This barrel never felt so good next to my dome. It’s cold & I’d rather die than live alone.”

Feddy E _2_Freddy E _3_

(Images retrieved from http://bossip.com/706737/so-sad-tygas-artist-freddy-e-announces-death-on-twitter-and-video-before-committing-suicide-over-failed-relationship-with-another-rapper/ and Freddy’s public Twitter profile at https://twitter.com/freddy_e)

Merrick McKoy used Facebook to post a picture while holding his 19-month-old daughter, Mia, before writing “Don’t judge me had no choice.” He then killed Mia before killing himself.

Merrick McKoy _4_

(Retrieved from http://newsone.com/2791994/merrick-mckoy-dead-dies-colorado-facebook-selfie-dad-murder-suicide/)

Renaissance High School student Billy Watts committed suicide by jumping into the Detroit River. Billy shared his last moments on Instagram where he posted a picture of his breakfast captioned with the phrase “My last meal.” He then uploaded a photo of his watch and wrote “Time to see if my watch is really waterproof, ” along with, “Thinking about cutting my hair for my funeral.”

In all of this I am left thinking that if social media played such a critical role in each of their deaths, could social media also have been influential in saving their lives? Had mental health information been both easily accessible and targeted towards black men, could these suicides have been prevented? All of the major social media sites have suicide prevention webpages with links to 24-hour hotlines. Facebook goes further to provide specific resources for members of the U.S. Military, along with persons who identify on the LGBT spectrum. However, there are no known culturally-tailored resources listed here for those who identify as racial or ethnic minorities. In future iterations of their suicide prevention program, it could be beneficial for Facebook to further explore the idea of providing culturally-sensitive resources to persons experiencing discrimination based on race or ethnicity, as we know that perceived racism has adverse mental health outcomes for racial/ethnic minorities (Williams et al., 2003).  We should reflect on how utilizing social media to promote mental wellness is a promising avenue in the fight to de-stigmatize mental illness among both black men and other underserved groups, an effort that could result in the saving of many lives.

*** Janelle R. Goodwill, MSW is a Doctoral Student in the Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Psychology at the University of Michigan. She is also the Lab Manager for the Gender and Health Research Lab. 

References

  1. Bennett Jr., M. D., & Joe, S. (2015). Exposure to Community Violence, Suicidality, and Psychological Distress Among African American and Latino Youths: Findings From the CDC Youth Violence Survey. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 1-15.
  2. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). (2013). Leading cause of death by age group, Black males- United States, 2013. Retrieved September 7, 2015, from: http://www.cdc.gov/men/lcod/2013/Blackmales2013.pdf
  3. Griffin-Fennell, F., & Williams, M. (2006). Examining the Complexities of Suicidal Behavior in the African American Community. Journal of Black Psychology, 32(3) 303-319.
  4. Hill-Wagner, M., & Seminar, T. (2010). African American males and suicide: changing attitudes require a new look. OurWeekly6(41), 1-4.
  5. Joe, S., & Kaplan, M. S. (2001). Suicide among African American men. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior31(s1), 106-121.
  6. Williams, D.R., Neighbors, H.W., & Jackson, J.S. (2003). Racial/ethnic discrimination and health: Findings from community studies. American Journal of Public Health, (93)2, 200-208
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Men’s Centers and Men’s Studies

October 3, 2013

The full interview with USA Today College

By Daphne C. Watkins, PhD  

Q: Do you feel men’s centers are needed in United States colleges?

A: Yes, but I am afraid that only addresses part of the challenge. I think that more programs and centers that support the various identities of our college students in the United States are needed. Though gender-specific centers are a start to this process, we should not always think of our identities as binary (men vs. women) with regard to the types of support that college students need. For instance, instead of the need for a men’s center versus a women’s center, I would like to see college administrators think about what types of programs (e.g., those that support racial/ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, and class needs) will help students work through the challenges that pose as potential barriers to their personal and professional success. There are so many other identities to consider during emerging adulthood that it would behoove college administrators to think about how best to support the multiple factors that help to shape their students. If centers are the result of this thinking, then being clear about the goals of these centers is essential.

Q: Do you feel more men’s studies are needed in the United States?

A: Yes. The women’s movement was (and continues to be) a remarkable and needed contribution to gender studies, overall. However, there is also something to be said about the complexities of men that were left out of some of the early scholarship on women. Therefore, increasing what we know about men — through men’s studies — helps us acquire a deeper understanding about what is happening in the lives of men, women, families, and communities.

Q: Do you feel there needs to be more support for the men’s rights movement on college campuses in the United States?

A: I think, broadly speaking, there needs to be more support for college programs that provide education, support, and resources for students who are unpacking the complexities of their multiple identities — gender included.

Q: What issue do you think is the most troubling for American men on college campuses and why?

A: In my opinion, what is most troubling for American college men are the daily challenges they face as a result of their adherence or non-adherence to masculine gender norms.  For many men, their masculine identities are shaped by their interactions with other men, and society as a whole. Unfortunately, masculinity is often treated as a binary (either you are masculine or you are not) factor by college men. This can lead them to engage in stigmatizing behaviors, as oftentimes there are opposing beliefs within and between male groups and individuals on campus. I think if American men were more aware of the global acceptance of multiple masculinities, their college experiences would be improved.


Ethnic Disparities in Mental Health

December 12, 2012

A Look at African Americans

By Babe Kawaii-Bogue, MA*

Startled by the thunderous pounding on my office door, I jumped up to respond to the deep voice shouting through the door, “I’m gonna kill myself! I’m gonna kill myself!” Even though eight years have passed since this incident took place, I can still remember the expression on the man’s face as I swung open my office door. This African American man in his thirties exhibited a look of profound desperation as he struggled to hold back an inconceivable amount of inner pain. The man apprehensively revealed that his mother and two siblings were killed in a car accident a few week’s prior, and that he had no one supporting him with his recent loss. At this time, I was working in the mental health services division of Glide Memorial Health Clinic, which was founded in 1997 to address the comprehensive, unmet health needs of the homeless, uninsured, and government-insured inhabitants of the San Francisco Bay Area. I was drawn to Glide for its successful efforts in connecting African Americans with behavioral health and substance abuse services, with the intention of gaining a familiarity of community based interventions and preventative care.

Through my personal and professional experiences as an African American working in the field of mental health, I developed a keen awareness of the unmet behavioral health needs of African Americans. I represent one of many African Americans exposed to violence, poverty, a single parent, the child welfare system, malnutrition, familial incarceration, chronic health conditions, premature deaths, a family with limited education, and lack of access to quality behavioral and physical health care. Common chronic environmental stressors like these put African Americans at high risk for mental illness (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). African Americans are afflicted with the highest rate of post-traumatic stress disorder of any ethnic group in the United States and the events leading to PTSD for African Americans tend to be persistent and chronic throughout the life-course (Roberts et al., 2011). Overall, research has shown that African Americans encounter a complex system of ineffective mental healthcare, with disparities existing in behavioral health severity, treatment utilization, accurate diagnoses, and treatment outcomes (Baker, 2001; Neighbors, 1989).

Currently, we recognize that African Americans are much less likely than non-Hispanic Whites to receive mental health and substance abuse treatment and less likely to receive these services for a treatment need prior to its severity (Breslau et al., 2005; Schmidt et al., 2006). We also understand that African Americans currently have lower rates of lifetime mental illnesses compared to non-Hispanic Whites, but that these illnesses are more severe and persistent, due to a lack of treatment (Breslau et al., 2005; Himle et al., 2009). For instance, in a national study, non-Hispanic Blacks were found less likely to use illicit drugs than Non-Hispanic Whites, equally likely to become dependent after initiating use, but more likely to remain persistently dependent (Warner et al., 2005).

While I was able to provide assistance and counseling services to the despondent man who came to my office door eight years ago and to many others since then, I wonder what might have happened if practitioners trained in cultural sensitivity and a local clinic aimed at meeting the mental health needs of African Americans did not exist. Would he have committed suicide? My encounters with individuals like him are constant motivations to continue examining cultural competency strategies for the delivery of behavioral health care within the African American community.

*Babe Kawaii-Bogue, MA is a Doctoral Student in the Joint Doctoral program in Social Work and Psychology at the University of Michigan

References:

Adebimpe, V. (1981). Overview: White norms and psychiatric diagnosis of black patients. American Journal of Psychiatry, 138(3), 279-285.

Baker, F. M. (2001). Diagnosing depression in African Americans. Community Mental Health Journal, 37, 31–38.

Breslau, J., Kendler, K. S., Su, M., Gaxiola-Aguilar, S., & Kessler, R. C. (2005). Lifetime risk and persistence of psychiatric disorders across ethnic groups in the United States. Psychological Medicine35(3), 317-327.

Himle, J.A., Baser, R.E., Taylor, R.J., Campbell, R.D. & Jackson, J.S. (2009). Anxiety disorders among African Americans, Blacks of Caribbean descent, and non-Hispanic Whites in the United States. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23, 578-590.

Neighbors, H.W., Jackson, J. S., Campbell, L. and Williams, D. (1989). Racial influences on psychiatric diagnosis: A review and suggestions for research. Community Mental Health Journal 25, 301–311.

Roberts, A. L., Gilman, S. E., Breslau, J., Breslau, N., & Koenen, K. C. (2011). Race/ethnic differences in exposure to traumatic events, development of post-traumatic stress disorder, and treatment-seeking for post-traumatic stress disorder in the United States. Psychological medicine41(1), 71-83.

Schmidt, F., McKinnon, L., Chattha, H. K., & Brownlee, K. (2006). Concurrent and predictive validity of the psychopathy checklist: youth version across gender and ethnicity. Psychological assessment18(4), 393.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity—A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General.

Warner, L. A., Kessler, R. C., Hughes, M., Anthony, J. C., & Nelson, C. B. (1995). Prevalence and correlates of drug use and dependence in the United States: results from the National Comorbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry52(3), 219.


When Traditional Health Care Isn’t Enough: Re-examining Diabetes Care for African American and Latino Men

April 4, 2012

By Jaclynn Hawkins, MSW*

Diabetes is among one of the leading causes of death in the United States (Center for Disease Control, 2008).  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2008), 7% of the US population lives with diabetes.  Diabetes is found in African American men (8%) and Latino men (7.1%) at higher rates than white men (5.4%).  Diabetes also places men at risk for other health conditions such as kidney failure, obesity, and heart disease. While early access to health care and preventive services can play an important role in preventing and reducing diabetes related complications, poor quality of care and access have been reported for low-income African American and Latino men with diabetes (Correa-de-Araujo, McDermott, & Moy, 2006).  Prior studies suggest that men have different health and health seeking behaviors than women, such as a reluctance to seek medical treatment, which may impact their participation in diabetes treatment and self-management (O’Brien, Hunt & Hart, 2005). Although many studies have examined the effectiveness of interventions in addressing racial and ethnic disparities in diabetes (Mauldon, Melkus, & Cagganello, 2006; Samuel-Hodge, Keyserling, Johnston, Gizlice, & Bandgdiwala, 2009), few address gender disparities.

Culturally appropriate lifestyle programs for African Americans and Latinos can lead to improvements in diabetes control, and self-management. Considering the increasing importance of diabetes treatment programs in effective diabetes self-management and control, it is important to examine whether gender influences diabetes intervention participation and outcomes. Among African Americans, self-care and health care utilization are largely dependent on culture, coping styles, family relationships, spirituality, education levels, socioeconomic status, larger structural or institutional variables (e.g. health care delivery systems and patient-provider relationships) and gender socialization. For Latinos, factors such as acculturation, and language barriers should also be considered. Each of these factors play out differently depending on the environment and racial group. Future studies should tailor interventions by gender and examine their effects in service of decreasing gender disparities and improving diabetes mortality rates among both men and women of color.  Interventions would benefit from explicitly addressing the role of discrimination and racism and cumulative disadvantage based on intersecting social positions (race, class and gender).

*Jaclynn Hawkins, MSW is a Doctoral Student in the Joint Doctoral program in Social Work and Sociology at the University of Michigan

References:

Correa-de-Araujo R., McDermott K., & Moy E. (2006). Gender differences across racial and ethnic groups in the quality of care for diabetes. Womens Health Issues. 16(2), 56-65.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Fact sheet: Number of americans with diabetes continues to increase. Retrieved January, 1, 2011, from http://www.cdc.gov/Features/diabetesfactsheet

Mauldon, M., Melkus, G. D., & Cagganello, M. (2006). Tornado control: A culturally appropriate diabetes education program for spanish-speaking individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus—evaluation of a pilot project. Diabetes Education, 32(5), 439-760.

O’Brien, R., Hunt, K., & Hart, G. (2005). ‘It’s caveman stuff, but that is to a certain extent how guys still operate’: Men’s accounts of masculinity and help seeking. Social Science & Medicine, 61(3), 503-516.

Samuel-Hodge, C. D., Keyserling, S. P., Johnston, L. F., Gizlice, Z., & Bandgdiwala, S. I. (YEAR). A randomized trial of a church-based diabetes self-management program for african americans with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Education, 35, 439-453.

Williams, D.R. (2003). The health of men: structured inequalities and opportunities. American Journal of Public Health, 98(9 Suppl), S150-7.


Staying Alive Is Easier Said Than Done For African American Men

September 13, 2011

By Jamie Mitchell, M.S.W, Ph.D.*

For at least the past 100 years, African American men have had the shortest lifespan of all racial ethnic groups in the United States, with a life expectancy that rivals men in some third world countries (Gadson, 2006).  With an average life expectancy of six years less than white men and 11 years less than white women (Casares et al, 2006), some prominent researchers estimate that nearly two thirds of all teenage African American boys will not live to see their 65th birthday (Geronimus & Thompson, 2004). So what exactly is killing African American men prematurely? One possible answer is that avoidable illnesses such as common types of cancer and chronic disease seem to be claiming the majority of African American male lives in middle adulthood and beyond.  For example, for all types of cancer combined, African American men are 37% more likely to die than their White male counterparts (Jemal et al, 2008), and the rate of death among African American men for prostate, colon and lung cancer is higher than any other group in the United States (Toles, 2008). African American men are also more likely to be hypertensive, less likely to have health insurance (Virnig et al, 2009), and are disproportionately affected by coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes (Casares et al, 2006).

The discussion around the overrepresentation of health disparities among African American men has centered on two issues; the social determinants of poor health that create and influence health risks  at a societal level, and  the underutilization of preventive health behaviors which are proven to reduce disease risk at the individual level. It is well known that social determinants of the health such as healthcare access (Casares et al, 2006) and racial discrimination in employment, housing, and other sectors significantly affect the ability of African American men to make health-related decisions. However, it is equally acknowledged that even given minimal resources, African American men can make changes to their diet, physical activity, risky health behaviors such as smoking, and monitoring of health conditions which can reverse the progression of chronic disease or reduce the likelihood of it developing initially. Our charge as clinicians, researchers, policy makers, and health advocates is to assist African American men on both fronts; to work toward evolving societal conditions so that every individual has sufficient resources to prevent disease and live healthfully; while empowering African American men to make the individual lifestyle changes using what resources are available to reduce their own risk of disease and ultimately, of death.

* Dr. Jamie Mitchell is an Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan

References:

Casares, C., Ro, M., Thomas, S., Braithwaite, K., & Treadwell, H.M. (2006). Prevention and men of color in the U.S. – findings from the national healthcare disparities report. Challenge-A Journal of Research on African American Men, 12 (2), 1-14.

Gadson, S. (2006). The third world health status of Black American males. Journal of the National Medical Association, 98 (4), 488-491.

Geronimus, A., & Thompson, J. (2004). To Denigrate, ignore or disrupt: Racial inequality in health and the impact of a policy-induced breakdown of African American communities. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 1, (2), 247-279.

Jemal, A., Siegal, R., Ward, E., Hao, Y., Xu, J., Murray, T., & Thun, M. (2008). Cancer statistics, 2008. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians (American Cancer Society), 58 (2),  71-96.

Toles, C. (2008). Black men are dying from prostate cancer. The Association of Black Nursing Faculty, 19 (3), 92-95.

Virnig, B.A., Baxter, N.N., Haberman, E., Feldman, R., & Bradely, C. (2009). A matter of race: Early versus late-stage cancer diagnosis. Health Affairs, 28 (1), 160-168.


“Different” Is Not The Same As “Dysfunctional”

March 17, 2011

By Antonette King, M.S.W.*

Traditionally, parenting practices are still based on married households where mothers provide the majority of the nurturing and fathers are responsible for financially supporting the household, masculine driven tasks, and play (Biblarz & Stacy, 2010).  However, only 25% of U.S. children grow up in homes with both of their married, biological parents (Simons, Chen, et al., 2006) and this has greatly impacted the structure of African Americans families.  For example, African Americans families have endured a significant decline in the number of marriages, older onsets of first marriage, higher incidences of births to unwed mothers, higher percentages of children living in female-headed homes, and a higher proportion of children raised in poverty (see Taylor, Tucker, Chatters & Jayakody, 1997, for review).  The changes in African American family structures have been so drastic that it has been estimated that nearly 20% of African American children live with extended family members and over 70% of African American births are to unwed mothers (Simons, Chen, et al., 2006).  Since it is understood that single African American mothers are more likely to provide financial support to their household than women of other ethnicities and African American single-headed homes have produced some highly adaptive youth, we as social scientists should seek to provide more comprehensive models of family functioning. But, how?

There is an anecdote that argues, “mothers love their sons and raise their daughters” (Mandara, Murray, & Joyner, 2005, p. 210).  This saying hints at the notion that African American mothers socialize their boy and girl children differently.  As such, African American mothers are often more tolerant and easier on their sons, while often forcing their daughters to be self-sufficient and ambitious (Mandara et al., 2005).  In traditional two-parent households this unique relationship described between a mother and her male and female children would be counteracted by the father who tends to be tougher and more controlling of their sons achievement and more lenient on their girls (Mandara et al., 2005).  Although these counter-balancing relationships are not always possible in single-parent homes, some children raised in single-parent homes are quite resilient.  So, the notion that a child needs a mother and father assumes that there are fundamental differences within mothering and fathering (Biblarz & Stacey, 2010).  Future social work research on African American families should examine how various family configurations influence family relationships, gendered based parenting practices, and youth outcomes.

*Antonette King is a Doctoral Candidate in the Joint Doctoral program in Social Work and Psychology at the University of Michigan

References:

Biblarz, T. J., & Stacey, J. (2010). Ideal families and social science ideals. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 72, 41-44.

Mandara, J., Murray, C. B., & Joyner, T. N. (2005). The impact of fathers’ absence on African American adolescents’ gender role development. Sex Roles, 53, 207-220.

Simons, L. G., Chen, Y., Simons, R. L., Brody, G., & Cutrona, C. (2006). Parenting Practices and Child Adjustment in Different Types of Households: A Study of African American Families. Journal of Family Issues, 27, 803-825.

Taylor, R., Tucker, M., Chatters, L., & Jayakody, R. (1997). Recent demographic trends in African American family structure. Family life in Black America (pp. 14-62). Thousand Oaks, CA US: Sage Publications, Inc.


Richard Pitt’s New Book: “Focus on black, gay or Hispanic men troubling in study of the macho man”

February 6, 2011

Most troubling about the research on hypermasculinity to Richard Pitt, Vanderbilt assistant professor of sociology and AMSA Board Member, is how often it focuses on men who are black, Hispanic and/or gay.

Pitt looks at the field of study in a chapter titled “Revisiting Hypermasculinity: Shorthand for Marginalized Masculinities,” in the book Where Are the Brothers: Essays and Studies on African American Masculinities.

“Hypermasculinity is studied as something largely negative so when the term is so often linked to marginalized populations like blacks and Hispanics, the knee-jerk reaction is to think of black and Hispanic men as problematic members of society“Hypermasculinity is studied as something largely negative so when the term is so often linked to marginalized populations like blacks and Hispanics, the knee-jerk reaction is to think of black and Hispanic men as problematic members of society,” Pitt said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.


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