Depression and Suicide Among Black Men in College
Guest Author: Ifeanyi Olele, D.O, M.B.A, M.S
Many black men entering college carry the hopes and dreams of their families and communities. These young men have aspirations to become business, health care, entertainment, technology or legal professionals. Plenty of black men go on to graduate and achieve their dreams. But there are men who see their dreams become nightmares.
An estimated 5 to 10 percent of black men have depression.
Several factors can contribute to college-aged black men becoming depressed, such as the isolation of being one of few blacks on campus, racial discrimination, or financial and academic stress. The 2015 National College Health Assessment reports that more than 18 percent of students said depression affected their ability to function within the last month. Students with depression are twice as likely to drop out of college, according to Sciencedaily.com.
Because of mental health stigma, particularly in the black community, many individuals are reluctant to talk about mental health issues. Expressing mental anguish is often seen as exhibiting weakness. What is most dangerous is that even when they acknowledge depression, many black men don’t seek mental health services.
Depression is a condition that can grow and fester, potentially leading to death. Common symptoms of depression are:
- Disruption in sleep patterns
- Loss of interests
- Feelings of hopelessness or guilt
- Decreased energy
- Decreased concentration
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Irritability and restlessness or slower speech and movements
- Suicidal thoughts
About two-thirds of people who die by suicide had depression. Clinical depression is one of the risk factors for suicide, others include:
- Previous suicide attempts
- Family history of suicide
- Personal loss (job, financial, relationships, etc.)
- Family history of violence and abuse
- Physical and mental illness
- Substance abuse
- Access to firearms
- Isolation or lack of support
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among black males ages 15-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One in 10 college students has made a plan for suicide. There are more than 1,000 suicides each year on college campuses. These tragedies catch families and friends by surprise, leaving them with unanswered questions about why their loved ones have taken their lives. These tragic, untimely deaths highlight a growing problem in black communities.
College black men can combat depression and suicide by
- Acknowledging their problem.
- Seeking support through their family, friends, church, and campus resources.
- Seeing a psychiatrist or primary care provider for an evaluation and consideration of antidepressant medication to address symptoms.
- Seeing a mental health professional for talk therapy to help build coping strategies and change behavior and thought processes to address problems.
- Following up with their health care professional frequently to assess improvement and need for medication adjustments.
- Keep your academic advisor in the loop, as he/she may be able to help with reasonable accommodations.
Coping with depression is never easy.
However, reaching out for support and taking steps to address the problem can help college black men make their dreams a reality.
For immediate help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
To locate a psychiatrist in your area go to finder.psychiatry.org.
Ward, E. and Mengesha M. 2013. Depression in African American Men: A Review of What We Know and Where We Need to Go From Here. Am J Orthopsychiatry, 83(2 0 3): 386–397. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215700/
Blumberg, SJ, et al. 2005. Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Men’s Use of Mental Health Treatments. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NCHS Data Brief No. 206. www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db206.htm