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The Voice of the Black Community

Opinion

Black boys and men are dying; no one seems to care
 
Published Tuesday, November 26, 2019
by Dr. Salvatore J. Giorgianni Jr., Men's Healt Network

African American boys and men in America continue to kill themselves at an alarming rate.

Over the past several months, the Centers for Disease Control has released several reports about the demographics of this national disgrace. Black men and boys continue to have a higher death rate in nine of the 10 leading causes of death than is seen in women. It is most unfortunate that the overall health care system is inherently nonmale friendly, and, in some health care situations, men tell us they do not feel welcome at all.

One consequence of this shocking and disturbing reality is the male suicide rate in America.  Males are 3 to 7 times more likely than females to commit suicide, which explains why suicide is the sixth-leading cause of death for males. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.

Black youth, particularly young men, who are exposed to violence are at a greater risk for PTSD by over 25%. African Americans are also more likely to be exposed to factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition, such as discrimination, social isolation, homelessness and exposure to violence.

In the black community, people often misunderstand what a mental health condition is and therefore the subject is uncommon. This lack of understanding leads many to believe that a mental health condition is a personal weakness or a form of punishment, and that impedes boys and men from talking about emotional issues let alone seeking medical help.

A careful reading of the CDC data shows that the current rate of suicide for males is the overwhelming majority of all suicides. And the news gets worse. Recently, the CDC highlighted a significant increase in the number of suicides for teens and younger men. The incidence of suicide for millennials increased almost 300% from the 1950s for the baby boomer generation.

Most male suicides occur in boys and men who have not been diagnosed as depressed or have a history of mental health issues. We believe, in part, this is because a lack of cultural competence in mental health care, which results in misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment for those of color. African American men, like men in general, access health care far less frequently than do women. There are no clear guidelines on when and how to screen men, and health care providers do not properly or regularly screen them for emotional wellness. The importance of the screening is underscored by the fact that this is something integral to Well Woman Visits, and for postpartum female care.

Earlier this year, Men's Health Network convened a meeting of 27 internationally recognized experts in health care and mental health to examine the failure to identify mental stress and depression in boys and men, and propose a comprehensive call-to-action that provides a blueprint for identifying and helping boys and men in trouble before it is too late. This free report is found at www.MensHealthLibrary.com, “Behavioral Aspects of Depression and Anxiety in the American Male.”

Men’s Health Network recommends that those charged with the health and social welfare of boys and men consider the following: acknowledge the heterogeneity of boys and men and the unique needs of diverse populations; develop culturally appropriate male-focused screening tools; develop  guidelines that recognize the need to regularly and routinely screen boys and men; address the poor reimbursement for behavioral health clinical services; and establish culturally and gender appropriate programs to identify, interrupt, triage, and manage mental health issues in African American boys and men for those in the community who interact with them.

In addition, we urge insurance companies and other payers to include adequately reimbursed Well-Man medical visits similar to the yearly Well Woman Visits required under the Affordable Care Act. The ACA, as passed by Congress, does not provide for Well Man Visits.

 

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