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Strange Fruit: Seeing Suicide Through A Non-White Lens


Kimya Dennis is a sociologist and criminologist who does community outreach work about mental health. She said when she does presentations for African-American and non-white Hispanic communities, she gets some push back when it comes to talking about suicide prevention.

Dennis said in those groups, which are often under-served by the mental health community, suicide is often seen as a white people problem.

"In the African-American community, there’s a tendency to label suicide and mental health conditions as 'crazy' or evidence that you aren’t praying enough," she writes.

Ideas about strength and masculinity may also come into play. "African-American boys and men are even more likely to be labeled 'weak' and 'not a real man' when in need of help," she said.

Dennis said that can prevent them from seeking mental health care when they need it. So can the stereotype of the "strong black woman."

"'Strong black woman' has different definitions depending on who is reading that," she said. "For those of us in black communities who are critical of this, it means pressure to be strong. It means pressure to risk your own self-care and health for the sake of saving everybody else."

And organizations whose mission is to prevent or study suicide are often largely made up of white staff and researchers.

Dennis tells us more about all this — and problems she sees in how suicide data are collected in the first place — on this week's show.

And we also speak with Wesleyan psychology professor Clara Wilkins about her recent essay, "The Dangerous Belief That White People Are Under Attack."

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.

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