Why Black Teen Depression & Suicide Is On The Rise

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The teenage years are an important transformative point in human development. Take it from someone with recent experience. Not only is the body going through changes, guided through puberty. But the mind is being molded. Ideologies are adopted, personal preferences become more defined. However, just as central to all the textbook changes that happen in adolescent years is the point in time where we doubt ourselves. Nearly everyone that’s been a teenager has gone through this. There are moments where we asked ourselves, “Juxtaposed to everyone else, who am I? What do I do to fit in? How can I be ‘cool’?”

Being your own individual tends to be hard sometimes, especially when embracing your individuality ostracizes you from those around you. In our teenage years, we all wanted acceptance. Young men start putting together trendy, casual outfits and taking pride in their hygiene just to score the attention of the young women around them. On the other side of the spectrum, young women doll themselves up with make-up and fly designer outfits to fit the image of who they want to be and who they want to attract. The aforementioned descriptions are racially ambiguous. It’s just a part of finding yourself. But African-Americans always have a dual experience. Adolescent development is no different.

While the young woman above tries to craft herself in the image of what she wants to be, she’s surrounded by media content full of cultural stereotypes or, even worse, no one that looks like her. The images that reflect her experience are few and far between. Sure Scandal, Black-ish, Insecure and now BET’s The Quad are around but what else is there for her to identify with? Who truly understands her inner struggle of her battle to find what she deems to be beautiful? Even worse, she’s surrounded by a teen culture of debatury and supposed “sexual freedom”. Conforming to the standards around her leaves her empty, yet standing above it all makes her feel alone.

There’s a figurative and literal target on the young man’s back. One wrong run in with the police and his life could end. The saddest reality is that he doesn’t even have to do anything wrong. The vilification of his image burdens him. The young man desperately wants power. He seeks it by falling into the mindset of thinking that the number of women he has intimate encounters with is synonymous to his worth as a man. He wants better and attempts to uplift himself out of his situation but opportunities are scarce and doors are blatantly slammed in his face. What else is he to do?

Life for black youth can be hard sometimes. You don’t have to be an adult to come face to face with the reality of how hard life can be. You were born knowing it. However, what’s learned in time is how to handle and cope with these realities. We’re told to find solace in our faith and beliefs but that’s often times tested. There are times when you just want a way out. You want a way to escape from your burdens.

We must understand the mindset of our youth to thoroughly fight against depression, self-doubt and suicidal thoughts. Sometimes the signs are right in our faces and we neglect it. I’ll never forget the episode of Moesha called “Saving Private Rita” where one of her classmates at fictional California University Rita was showing the classic signs of depression: a general disregard for the affairs in her life (test, school assignments), a urge to get rid of her possessions. Rita even told Moesha the problem (her mother’s passing) but she seemed perky and upbeat so Moesha looked passed the issue and, a day later, she was on top of a ledge threatening to jump saying that she has no one that listens to her.

Using the “Saving Private Rita Episode” and other examples, I want to examine the cause of depression and give my solution to the issues. The causes for depression and suicidal thoughts are numerous and there’s no one solution to fixing these issues. However, my aim is to start a realistic conversation leading into the new year about what we can do narrow the gap and offer assistance to those in need of love and support.

Problem: External Factors
Let’s revisit the example of the problems faced by the young woman in the above example. We can’t neglect the effect that the media has on our personal perception. Even I, as a young man, was influenced to fit into the trends that my classmates follow that was led on by what was seen on television and on the internet. When you don’t seem to fit in with what’s perceived as “normal” around you, it does make you feel bad. It truly does put a chip on your shoulder.

Even moreso, look at the news every single day. There seems to be some black person that’s murdered, often unlawfully, by a police officer. Our needs as a generation seem to be ignored by politicians and others in power. No matter how much we shouted, cried and created witty memes/tweets/posts, Donald Trump is still going to be our president. That just makes you feel bad. It does just make you feel like giving up, not seeing any foreseeable hope.

Solution : Create Counter-Current Media Narratives
I always tell my attorney friend Jasmin Robinson of Jas Talks Law (Instagram: @jastalkslaw) about the first time she did an event on Fort Valley State University’s campus. She brought her law discussion forum to us and there was one young lady that was just blown away by her. Jasmin was the manifestation of where she wanted to be. Jasmin was #goals!
We should never neglect the importance of media on the building of our self image. It’s a euphoric feeling to see projects that reflect who we are. We must support platforms, writers, filmmakers and production companies that have the central aim of black empowerment. If we don’t control our media and fight against the distortion of our images, how can we truly fight against depression?

2) Problem: Internal Factors
You simply never know what people are going through. Just like Rita in the Moesha episode. She was having a troubling time coping with the passing of her mother but she made sure to plaster a smile on her face, hiding all her problems from the world. The signs were there. Even outside of her actions, her body language screams that everything isn’t alright. Moesha knew something was up but she was so focused on her schoolwork that she decided not to investigate further.

Solution: Simply being there. Creating an outlet of expression.
You can’t force people to get help. You can make people talk about their troubles. You, however, can extend an invitation to talk “if” they ever needed anything. Look at how Moesha handled Rita when she was up on the ledge. All Rita wanted was for someone to talk to. The burdens of her problems weighed heavy on her like a ton of bricks. She wanted to find the quickest way to relieve herself of her problems so she elected to commit suicide.
However, when Moesha told her that her mother had also passed, Rita’s whole disposition changed. Rita saw then that she wasn’t alone. We have to understand the importance of mentorship. It works!

Like I said before, these aren’t the sure-fire ways to treat these cases but a conversation is what we need. We need to leave selfishness, ulterior motives and coldheartedness in 2016. We have to grow as a family if we really want to make something happen!

Make sure to subscribe to HBCU Pulse and check out journalist Kamara Daughtry’s interview with Congressman John Lewis!

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PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.

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