Troy, a Black male in his late 30s, has been in a dark place for months. He lost his job earlier in the year, and unemployment has run out. Despite several interviews, he has yet to secure a job. His wife has been a stay-at-home mom, caring for their month-old daughter and four-year-old son. Every morning Troy struggles to look at himself in the mirror because although life is never easy, lately, finding value in his existence has been challenging.
The stigma of Black men as failed providers was created by negative stereotypical Black characters in TV & film, embellished media stories, and Black male mass incarceration. The Black man’s identity is often socially dismantled because of the pressures of poverty. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health states, “Poverty level affects mental health status. Black or African Americans living below the poverty level, compared to those over twice the poverty level, are twice as likely to report serious psychological distress.”
Later that afternoon, Troy meets his best friends Calvin and Rashad at a bar. Between buffalo wings and a couple of tequila shots, the trio exchange a few words when they’re not yelling at the playoff game on the bar’s TV screen. Rashad notices that Troy looks slightly distant and asks, “You good?” Troy nods an “OK” but feels the opposite. He wants to lay his feelings on the line but decides to continue making remarks about the game. “Sh!t whatever it is, you’ll get through, Bro, like always. Only the strong survive out here, ya’ know!” said Calvin, raising his shot glass for a toast. Rashad raises his glass while Troy pauses a second before his hand joins theirs, making all the glasses clink. They take their final sip together.
The amount of safe spaces for Black men to let their guard down is next to none. In Black Boys, Black Men, and Suicide, Patrice N. Douglas, PsyyD, LMFT, states that one of the causes of Black male suicide is intergenerational trauma. “We all had issues and made it; therefore, you will too. We don’t have time to be weak; suck it up,” says Dr. Douglas. She further explains why Black men don’t ask for help, “Shame and guilt due to the expectations of being a Black male.” To be viewed as ‘weak’ is the opposite of what society’s creation of manhood is supposed to be.
It’s no wonder, then, that Black male suicide hits differently because society forces them to suffer in silence. The strict status of manhood trumps basic humanity and suffocates any opportunity for growth.
Troy gets home late from the bar and flops hard on the living room couch. His wife and kids are at their grandmother’s house, so it’s just him—alone with his dark thoughts. “Maybe now, while they’re away, I can do it?” Troy thinks to himself. He stands up and looks in a daze towards the balcony’s moonlight. Troy’s eyes almost begin to water but are interrupted by a cell phone vibration on his left thigh. The caller ID says it’s Rashad, but for almost twenty seconds Troy can barely make out what he’s saying. Then Troy collapses back onto the couch in shock at what he’s just heard: his friend Calvin had taken his own life.
Black men often wear a coat of armor to hide their emotions, and yet, according to the Suicide Prevention Center, they still have “a death rate from suicide three times greater than for Black women.” The societal identity of Black men being solely providers/protectors who never complain nor shed a tear is a harmful farce. That path of living up to a limited standard of manhood puts pressure on their mental health and endangers their lives. Suicide amongst Black men is an outcry from being born into a world that tells them what type of man they have to be, instead of encouraging them to fulfill what kind of man they could be.
To seek help for suicide prevention, please call the Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988