>The other part of the Fantasia scandal

>The news coverage and blogging heads are abuzz about Fantasia’s recent troubles. We’ve heard endless commentary about her breaking up a married man’s union with another woman and if she can bounce back and lead a healthy life.

What has been missing from the conversation about the Fantasia saga is the discussion about suicide in the black community.  Everyone from “legitimate” news sources to bloggers have failed to focus on suicide, an all-too-common occurrence among the black community.

New research indicates that blacks in the U.S. have a lifetime prevalence of attempted suicide of about 4 percent, a rate comparable with the general population, but higher than previous estimates, according to a study in the November 1 issue of JAMA. Among all Americans, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death and the rates range across specific demographic subgroups. In recent years, suicide and nonfatal suicidal behavior have emerged as crucial health issues for blacks, particularly among older adolescents and young adults, according to background information in the article. Although suicide has traditionally been viewed as a problem that affects more whites, the rates of suicide among blacks have increased significantly since the mid 1980s. Lack of data on the lifetime prevalence and age at onset of suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts among blacks in the United States have limited the development and evaluation of interventions to reduce suicide among black Americans. 


Newsweek in 2008 published an article the suicide of Abraham Biggs, the 19-year-old Floridian who committed suicide by overdosing on prescription medication while a chat room watched his act live via webcam and about the stigma in our community of seeking mental help:


Among all Americans, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death and the rates range across specific demographic subgroups. In recent years, suicide and nonfatal suicidal behavior have emerged as crucial health issues for blacks, particularly among older adolescents and young adults, according to background information in the article. Although suicide has traditionally been viewed as a problem that affects more whites, the rates of suicide among blacks have increased significantly since the mid 1980s. Lack of data on the lifetime prevalence and age at onset of suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts among blacks in the United States have limited the development and evaluation of interventions to reduce suicide among black Americans. 


According to the website Suicide.org, there were 371 black women who committed suicide in 2005 (I tend to believe these numbers are much higher). Of that 371, 55 were between the ages 15 and 24 and 28 suicides were committed by black women aged 65 or older (It should be noted that the table doesn’t include adults between 25 and 64).

Fantasia “wanting out” and her attempted overdose is no surprise to me. We all know there are countless of black women who want out, but do not dare express how they are feeling. Black women, burdened with the Strong Black Woman mentality and the responsibility of raising not only our children, but our men at times, have to be the fearless women our men and children need us to be. Our community, through its glorification of hypermasculinity prevalent in hip-hop and its focus on making boys “act like a man,” shuns mental disorders and “weaknesses” as a white folks’ thing. Depression and suicide, we are taught, are just an example the devil possessed our minds and praying to God about our problems and relying on a higher power for help will lead to ultimate happiness.

Let’s not forget the psychiatric community neglecting to focus on the mental health of our community. For decades, many in the mental health community perpetuated the notion that blacks don’t suffer from depression or don’t think about or act on suicidal thoughts. Since we apparently didn’t suffer from depression, committed suicide or had other mental illnesses at the rate our our white counterparts, our mental health wasn’t taken seriously. Quite frankly, many white psychiatrists and psychologists were at a loss on how to get back the “cultural” (even though we were all Americans…) barriers in treating black patients. We were told that our strong religious background (and our perseverance through slavery and decades of Jim Crow) were barriers against mental illnesses.

Faced with this hyper-religious and a keep-on-trucking attitude, black men and women dealing with depression and other mental disorders suffer in silence, despite blacks suffering from bipolar disorder continue to go undiagnosed and black men being diagnosed with schizophrenia at the rate of four to five times higher than other groups.

Despite the overwhelming and alarming numbers, our community is still in denial. We continue to turn a blind eye to the Fantasias and Abrahams who suffer in silence. We vilify them as being weak and feeble-minded. We turn our backs on their pain and refuse to get our brothers and sisters the proper care and help they need to live healthy lives. We watch in silence, hoping they will just snap out of it and wake up happy with the Lord in their minds and hearts.

The media and other bloggers have missed the mark on Fantasia’s relationship with a married man and her suicide attempt. Talking heads and online writers went in for the kill, and focused on Fantasia The Home Wrecker or Fantasia The Former American Idol Contestant Whose Life Has Taken A Tragic Turn. There was no discussion of Fantasia’s suicide attempt and how it was a cry for help–and how it was an opportunity to explore the mental health of our community. There was no real debate about what could be done in our community to bring to light the issue of mental disorders and suicide in our community.

There was none of that. Instead, we sat back from afar, judged Fantasia for her mishaps and prayed to God for her to get better and to watch over her poor soul.