Legendary Soul Train host, Don Cornelius, took his own life

Soul Train host Don Cornelius, songstress Phyllis Hyman and musician Donny Hathaway are African Americans who took their own lives. Recently, suicide has been in the spotlight and was brought on by the recent deaths of chef and colorful TV personality Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade. The tragic self-destructive event that can leave devastating emotional wounds for the families of its victims is on the rise.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 123 people per day in the U.S. commit suicide. Many who complete the act of killing themselves do not reveal their intent to a health professional in the months before doing so. If they communicate a plan to anyone, it is more likely to be a close friend or family member.

There is a terrible misconception that Blacks do not commit suicide. In her book Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting, Terrie M. Williams discusses how the stoicism Black people are taught can only lead to denial, isolation, and unspoken depression. Basically, our inability to divulge our pain is killing us. When a group of people is forced to deal with stressors such as systemic racism, police brutality, and gaps in healthcare, education, wealth and unemployment, they can become at risk for developing mental illness. Blacks are not exempt from developing emotional problems and suicide is mainly caused by a mental illness, depression.

What causes suicide?

A number of mental health associated factors can place someone at a higher risk for suicide:

  • depression, psychosis, schizophrenia, or anxiety
  • a significant loss, like the death of a spouse, child or loss of a job
  • drug/alcohol abuse
  • life stressors like a separation/divorce, financial problems
  • an illness or medication that causes mood swings
  • exposure to the suicidal behaviors of others, such as friends, peers, or celebrities
  • loneliness
  • aging (older folks have a higher rate of suicide)

African Americans and suicide statistics

  • Black women are more likely than their male counterparts to attempt suicide.
  • Firearms are the main method of suicide, then suffocation
  • Suicide is the 16th leading cause of death for Blacks of all ages and the third leading cause of death for Black males between the ages of 15 and 24.
  • Black men and women have similar rates of suicidal behavior to whites, including serious thoughts of suicide, making suicide plans, attempting suicide, and needing medical attention for attempted suicide.

Are there suicide warning signs?

Folks who kill themselves don’t really want to die according to mental health experts, they only want to end their pain. Someone may show certain signs and behaviors before a suicide attempt, such as: 

  • reclusiveness
  • drastic behavioral changes like a calm after a period of anxiety
  • disinterest in activities they used to love
  • change in sleeping and eating habits
  • sudden difficulty coping with workload
  • dwelling on death, suicide or harming themselves
  • talking about needing to get their affairs in order
  • erratic mood swings
  • researching ways in which to kill themselves (pills, guns, hanging)
  • an increase in alcohol or drugs to dull emotional pain
  • reckless behaviors (drunk driving or unprotected sex)


Folks who plan on taking their lives may not seek the emotional help they need because:

  • They are convinced no one can help them
  • They don’t feel compelled to discuss what has broken them
  • They feel asking for help is a waste of time
  • They don’t know where to turn to get help

Therapy is crucial for someone who is thinking about suicide. A mental health professional can evaluate and treat someone who is at risk of suicidal behavior.

Sadly, one-third of people who attempt suicide and are unsuccessful will try again within a year. About 10% of people who make threats or try to take their own life will eventually kill themselves.

Talk of suicide should absolutely never be ignored. If you or someone you know is talking about suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK), where you can receive free and confidential support anytime day or night. Call the local emergency number (such as 911) right away if someone you know has attempted suicide. DO NOT leave the person alone, even after you have called for help.