Suicide numbers in the Black community rising at an alarming rate

Pandemic causes rise in mental health issues
Updated: Apr. 24, 2021 at 11:22 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Since the pandemic started, mental health experts have worried that the emotional and mental stress created by COVID would lead to a rise in suicides.

It’s a trend suicide prevention advocate Tonja Myles has kept a close eye on, especially in the black community.

“This is personal to me. I’m a two-time suicide survivor and I’ve been in recovery for over 32 years,” said Myles.

According to a recent study, African American boys between the ages of 5 and 12 are more likely to die by suicide than any other age group. Nationwide, suicides among Black children under 18 are up 71 percent in the past decade.

“So, in the last couple of years we saw the uptick of suicide by African-American males, and during COVID it went off the roof,” said Myles.

Lysha Best is the Louisiana Director for RI International. She said conversations about mental health in the black community was considered taboo for years.

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“When we talk about stigma, I think that’s the biggest thing for us. It’s always like we don’t want anybody to know what’s going on in our household,” said Best.

Myles said these talks must start young if we want to see the trend change.” A lot of times, African-American men are told that you have to suck it up, you cannot show your feelings and you can’t cry. That’s not healthy for anyone. So, we have to change that when we’re talking to our babies, our young boys that it’s ok to cry, it’s ok to feel, you’re going to be ok,” said Best.

Myles said it can be hard to bring up the topic of suicide if you think someone needs help. Experts say it’s about your approach.

”It’s always not always about if you feel like hurting yourself right now. Sometimes as we continue to talk then people are opening up and saying that they’ve had thoughts before, sometimes I feel like this when this happens, so it’s really about how you have the conversation,” said Best.

The National Suicide Hotline is available 24/7, but soon it will be even easier to dial. By July 2022, every state will designate 988 as a number people can call and speak to a professional. The 3-digit hotline isn’t available in Louisiana just yet, but experts say it will be a gamechanger.

”Someone’s on the other line and they know the resources and they know where to go so 988 is going to be very important,” said Best.

Both Myles and Best said it’s imperative we continue to have these types of open talks on a more consistent and comfortable basis. From there, they believe they can save countless amounts of lives.

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“We need to let our brothers know that they’re not alone. There’s hope, there’s help and it’s ok to reach out. It doesn’t make you any less than a man, when in fact it makes you stronger,” said Myles.

Here are some tips to help:

  • Take care of yourself. When we become overwhelmed and stressed, it’s easy to forget about ourselves. We cannot function our best when we aren’t prioritizing our basic needs. Open Health Care Clinic said you should make sure that your most basic needs are met, like eating healthy meals, make sleep a priority, taking your medications and taking restroom breaks. You should have a plan for your children, pets and family to get the care that they need while you are away. Let your supervisor know if you feel overwhelmed and need a break. Also, keep your mind and body in good condition by taking care of yourself the same way you would take care of your favorite person.
  • Take your time. When you’re anxious and in a crisis, you may feel rushed, and that’s when mistakes are made. Experts said it would be best if you slowed down. When your feelings get intense, stop what you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. Take in your surroundings using all five senses. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Taste? Feel? Take note that most times, there is no imminent physical threat. Your thoughts make you feel anxious. This grounding technique reminds your body that you are safe and helps reduce feelings of anxiety. Deep breathing exercises and meditation can also help bring things back into focus for you. There are apps and YouTube videos that can help guide you.
  • Take back your routines. Routines help us feel in control and keep us anchored. Therefore, Open Health Care Clinic said we must try to keep some of our regular practices in place. Continue with your same grooming habits in the morning: brush your teeth and have a cup of tea. Facetime or have a Zoom meeting with the friend or family member that you usually visit on weekends. Even if it’s for a shorter time, at a different time, or done differently, maintain some sense of normalcy.
  • Take time for things that you enjoy. In times like these, it is easy to overindulge in the news. Experts said to set boundaries and limit talk about COVID-19. You can say that you would prefer to talk about something else and limit time on social media. Get the information you need to keep you and your family safe and spend your time doing things you enjoy. You should also make time for your favorite television show, read a book, play a card game or board game. This is also a time to explore new hobbies.
  • Take advantage of available support. When we are feeling stressed, OHCC said it can be easy to overindulge in vices: gambling, tobacco, caffeine, alcohol and food. Contact your trusted friends, family, and loved ones to discuss how you feel. Remember that this is hard, and you are doing the best that you can in uncharted territory. Counseling and support are also available virtually.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 800-273-8255. It’s open 24/7. All calls are confidential.

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