For nearly four decades, Dr. William Young has been repeating the same mantra: “Black people must stop saying that ‘we don’t commit suicide,’ and talk about mental health issues in our community.”
This week, a call from Long Island, N.Y., gave him tragic justification for repeatedly touting that message.
A beloved minister in New York state last week had taken his life, and it is believed that coronavirus was the underlying cause.
“We host the nationally recognized ‘Suicide and the Black Church’ Conference right here in Memphis,” he said. “Mental health professionals, family members of suicide victims, and others from all over the country convene to share their stories, their attempts, and their knowledge. This minister, I am told, was immersed in counseling others about COVID-19. Somehow, he entered into their suffering and was unable to pull himself out. What a tragedy.”
As founding bishop of The Healing Center and director of The Emotional Fitness Centers of Tennessee, Young has lectured and preached to thousands over the years that undiagnosed depression is the cause of most suicides.
“When people are in emotional pain, depression and anxiety take hold,” Young said. “And it has nothing to do with class or race.
“But the number of African-American men, especially between the ages of 16-25, completing suicide has been on a steady rise since 1995. Add to that the shutting down of life as we know it because of coronavirus, and we’ve got a recipe for disaster.”
HealthyPlace.com calls suicide “a hidden crisis for young black men.”
“Suicide is a taboo subject among many cultures, but the denial of mental health disorders runs rampant among African Americans,” according to an article on anxiety and depression on HealthyPlace.com by Samantha Gluck, a Houston-based journalist, specializing in healthcare trends, mental health, health and fitness.
“For so long, we could not talk about our feelings of depression and hopelessness, and there is still a stigma,” said Young. “When I came back from Viet Nam, I had some issues.
“I was very angry, and I suffered from depression. I began dealing with my own stuff when I was training to become a psych chaplain at the state mental hospital in Bolivar, Tennessee. It was there that my own healing really began.”
Young said coronavirus is a huge risk factor for depression because of “what it has taken from people.”
The pro basketball season is over, people are out of work, bills are piling up, and there seems to be no end in sight, Young said. Concerts and other events involving popular artists have all been canceled. Coronavirus is a “game-changer for most of us,” he said.
“Our teenagers and young people are at higher risk because disappointment can soon turn into depression,” Young said. “Our schools superintendent, said he was getting so many calls from students asking, ‘What about prom?’ and ‘What about graduation?’
“These events are important in the lives of children. They are highlights of a senior year. Their sense of accomplishment has been jeopardized because of this virus.”
Now that people have been directed to shelter in place, isolation and feelings of loneliness may trigger feelings of depression, Young said.
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray said during a recent coronavirus update from the Health Department that “our children need to be encouraged” during this time.
“I am asking everyone to come together and embrace our children. They are fearful, and they need to be reassured. They are going to get through this, but it is going to take all of us working together to let them know that this, too, will pass…they are calling about prom and graduation…let’s keep our children first and foremost,” Ray said.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) said: “COVID-19 is causing widespread fear and anxiety throughout the United States. The impact is going to be more pronounced for those with existing mental health disorders, especially anxiety and depression…”
Young said there are signs that parents may observe in a person who may be experiencing depression and anxiety during this time of uncertainty.
“Be watchful of everyone, but especially children and teens. If their eating and sleeping habits change, they complain of stomach aches or other body aches, and if they seem to have lost interest in hobbies, such as playing games, talking with friends on the phone or on social media, those are all red flags,” Young said.
According to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, these are helpful tips:
- Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
- Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
- Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
- Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
- Don’t dare him or her to do it.
- Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
- Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
- Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills.
- Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a hotline: (800) 273-8255.
Locally, The Emotional Fitness Centers of Tennessee has counselors available at: 901-370-4673, or go to: memphishealingcenter.com.