Examining Suicide, Mental Health Issues Among Young Black Men

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A Newsweek Web exclusive on Tuesday featured excerpts from an interview with Sean Joe, assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan who specializes in suicide and other mental health behaviors among young black men.

Although the suicide rate for black men has decreased since the 1980s and early 1990s when rates increased by 83%, suicide remains the third leading cause of death among black men ages 15 to 24, according to the American Association of Suicidology. Young black men also are seven times as likely to commit suicide as black women, whose suicide rate is less than two cases per 100,000 deaths, Joe said.

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Joe addressed reports that black men's suicide rates could be underestimated because they might purposefully be engaging in behaviors that would likely result in death. He said that although such behavior "could be considered suicidal," it is unlikely that the "data on black male suicide is inaccurate because of those cases." Joe said that young black men do engage in "suicidal behaviors that don't lead to death," adding that "in order to help those young men, it's important to understand" they are at risk of suicide.

According to Joe, many black men are reluctant to seek professional help for mental health problems because of a stigma against suicide and mental illness in the black community. Black men also are less likely to seek care because of a lack of trust in the medical system and providers and attitudes about the efficacy of mental services.

Joe said the "bigger challenge" in preventing suicide in black men is "redrawing black masculinity in general and the ways in which men perceive what it means to seek help for mental health issues," adding, "The degree to which we can reduce the stigma around seeking help and get men to understand that it isn't weak to seek help for your issues will greatly affect our ability to reach that community" (Alston, Newsweek, 11/26).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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