Leaders in mental health field teaming up to fight suicide trend among African American men

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Updated: Mar. 22, 2019 at 6:51 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Everyone has their challenges. Life has a way of throwing obstacles in the way and it’s our job to cope. It’s how African American men are coping that’s causing a big concern nationwide.

“I get it. I know when a person gets into that zone, it’s a challenge,” said Tonja Myles with Love Alive Church.

East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. William “Beau” Clark said in a press conference in March that in 2018, 14 African American men took their own lives. That’s a huge jump from previous years.

RELATED: Coroner’s annual report finds increased suicides and fentanyl-related deaths

“I was very alarmed,” Myles said. “I’m like, we need to do something.”

Now that community leaders have the facts, Myles and Clark say it’s time to find solutions.

“Black males are struggling. They’re having some legit challenges and we need to deal with them,” Myles said.

In addition to Myles being an advocate for suicide prevention through Capital Area Human Services (CAHS), she knows firsthand what it means to fight for hope. She’s a two-time suicide attempt survivor. She says three of those men last year were dealing with a mental illness and whether the other men had been diagnosed or not, help in the form of counseling can put a stop to self-medicating.

Someone contemplating suicide might exhibit changes in behavior, start using drugs, or isolate themselves from family and friends, experts say. Myles says it can be challenging for someone dealing with stress to reach out for help and acknowledge there is an issue.

“Life happens to all of us,” she said.

While there isn’t a particular age group dealing with this issue or a specific cause, Myles says training loved ones to respond to people talking about suicide can go a long way.

“A lot of times, people think, I can’t ask them if they’re thinking about harming yourself. It’s okay to ask them,” Myles said. “Even if someone says, ‘Yeah, I’m actively thinking about doing it’ and how it’s okay to pick up the phone and call 911 to get them the help that they need."

Next up is creating a web of resources for people going through a rough patch and once someone realizes they're not alone, hope is on the horizon.

“It’s okay for a man to be depressed. It’s okay for a man to have issues with anxiety, but there is help and there is hope,” Myles said. “Look up a therapist. It’s okay to have a therapist.”

On Monday, Mar. 25 at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, the public is invited to attend an event with leaders in the mental health field.

My Brother, You Matter is expected to “shine a light of hope in the alarming rise of suicide numbers in African American males.”

Several speakers, including Dr. Clark and Myles, Raymond Jetson with Urban Congress on African American Males, Dr. Frank Campbell, a suicidologist, will be at the event.

It takes place Monday, Mar. 25 from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

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