Why Did Freddy E Do It? Black Men and Suicide

Why Black men are killing themselves, warning signs, and what to do if you’re worried about someone.

Never woulda thought in years that my homie was suicidal
Had it all: money and kids and a wife that read the bible
They say it’s life and death in the slum
He had his reasons; I shoulda believed him
—Scarface, “The Suicide Note”

On January 5th, 2013, up and coming rap artist Freddy E took to his Twitter account, and submitted several messages which seemingly reflected feelings of anguish and despair. He then sent a final message expressing love for his parents and proceeded to take his own life. The 22-year-old was later found dead in his apartment of a reported self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Although there has been widespread speculation that the rap artist was having a difficult time coping with a recent relationship cessation, no definitive information confirming his reason for killing himself has been made public.

I do not pretend to know exactly what the young man was struggling with when he made the decision to take his life. However, I can say that oftentimes the individual struggling with depression is convinced that he/she is experiencing unbearable pain. Furthermore, the person may believe that such anguish has no end. That is to say, he/she feels horrible about his/herself (“bad me”) their current circumstances (“bad world”), and he/she believes the future is likewise horrible (“bad future”).

It is also possible that his leaving messages on Twitter were in some way a call for help. As I said in an earlier paper published on this site, it is my belief that most individuals, even those who complete suicide, remain conflicted about the act. Some part of the person desires to live, yet has a difficult time believing that life will improve.

The specific reasons why Freddy E chose to end his life remain unclear. What is clear, however, is that his suicide marks the fifth time in the past year that a high profile African American male has taken his own life. This includes the late Maestro of Soul Train Donald Cortez “Don” Cornelius, 44-year-old Hip hop executive and pioneer Chris Lightly, 19-year-old rap artist Capital Steez and 25-year-old professional football player Jovan Belcher, the latter of which killed his child’s mother before shooting himself in the presence of his coach and general manager.

In addition, thousands of African American males, who may not have the celebrity to make mainstream media news, take their lives each year. In fact, suicide currently represents the third greatest killer of African American males ages 15-24. According to the American Association of Suicidology, in 2007, among African Americans, males accounted for 82% of completed suicides. One African American dies by suicide every 4.5 hours. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the method of self-harm most frequently used in completed suicide was firearms.

Historically, Blacks maintained low rates of completed suicide; however, beginning in the 1980s, such behavior skyrocketed, increasing by 200 percent in some age groups. It should be noted that the numbers of completed suicides have been slowly declining since 2003. Despite this, in addition to the individual loss of life, the emotional and psychological cost to family members, friends and entire communities are enormous.

Why does suicide remain the number three killer of adolescent African American males and how can we begin to curb this incidence?

Some authors have reported that there is a silence within the Black community around depression and suicide. Feeding this silence is the erroneous notion that depression and suicide do not affect large numbers of African Americans; such issues are even thought to be a phenomenon of White Americans. Depression and suicide thus remain stigmatized, even as nearly two thousand African Americans commit suicide each year.

The stigma of mental illness is present in numerous ethnocultural communities. However, there appears to be a unique rejection of the mental health system within the Black community. This stigma dissuades Black men from seeking help, leaving them to agonize in isolation.

In addition to culturally mediated messages which may prevent help-seeking behaviors; it is also fair to say that many in the African American community have internalized mainstream (White male) patriarchal values. Such beliefs include the notion that ‘real men’ do not express emotions, with the exception of anger. Also associated with these beliefs is the view that to seek assistance with emotional pain is ‘weak’.

Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders acknowledged during a recent interview that while going through a divorce he, too, experienced severe depression which led to thoughts of suicide. The former two-sport athlete explained that he was often in the role of advisor or care-taker with his family and friends, therefore when he was overcome with sadness he felt he had no one with whom he could confide.

In addition to the culpability of the community, it is my assertion that the mental health field must also be held accountable for its failure to adequately reach out to African Americans.

Researchers such as Professor Jim Dobbins have appropriately critiqued the mental health field for its historical legacy of institutional racism, lack of cultural sensitivity among mental health practitioners, lack of theoretical attention to socio-cultural variables and the tendency for people of color to erroneously receive more severe diagnoses when presenting for mental health services. Each of these dynamics directly contributes to low service utilization and high treatment dropout rates for African American males.

How can we help?

On the interpersonal level we can begin by engaging in open and honest discussions. We can begin to demystify depression and suicide as well as create an atmosphere where conversations about intense sadness become normalized.

It is also important to stay in touch with warning signs. Most people who are seriously considering suicide typically give overt indication of their intentions. Here is a list of important signs to be aware of. It should be noted that this list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Dramatic change in behavior
  • Talking repeatedly about death and dying
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Uncharacteristically withdrawing
  • Recent significant losses such as someone close dying, loss of job, home, money, status
  • Unusual anger outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Frequent crying or otherwise expressing sadness
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Lack of eating or sleeping as well as the opposite, eating or sleeping all the time
  • Hyperactivity or acting out behavior, particularly in young people
  • Depression that seems to quickly disappear for no apparent reason

In isolation, any one of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that the person is thinking of suicide. However, my suggestion is that should you become the slightest bit concerned, simply check in with the person.

Furthermore, at times we may ask a friend “what’s wrong” and they respond “nothing.” However, if you remain convinced that there may be something concerning about their disposition, then I suggest you keep asking. It may even help to talk with their other friends and family to see if there is a pattern to their behavior.

Also, be aware of the resources in your community. I strongly suggest counseling/therapy if you or anyone you know is experiencing symptoms consistent with depression or is having thoughts of suicide.

As mentioned earlier, the mental health field in general must play a more central role both in providing critical outreach to communities of color as well as ensuring that practitioners are equipped to understand the importance of cultural context in providing competent clinical care.

The one size fits all approach is etiologically incongruent with the realities of African American men. One way to overcome the inherent problems is for clinicians to be culturally competent enough to integrate culture into their interventions and modify as needed.

 

In Canada and the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In the U.K., ring the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.

Read more on Suicide.

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About Billy Johnson II

Billy Johnson II is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the writer of a weekly column, "Dr. Bill," on The Good Life. He has previously published on racism, and reconciling masculinity. "Dr. Bill" is dedicated to becoming a more compassionate, loving, and forgiving human being. In his spare time he is working on his dance moves! You can follow him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Im a 21 year old male who lives on a college campus. I see all mixes of people and Im pretty sure I can identify why afrian americans so often take their own lives. First off, as people we are all pretty unique. In the white culture we can fit in the clique of rocker, hipster, geek, jock, student, and whatever else we want. There is variety that’s fits our personalities.. in the African amerian culture the only choices they get are “rapper/ghetto person” or nothing. There is no variety for African americans to be other than this clique so therefore I feel theyre never really able to develop themselves and form real connections with other people. Im tired and my words are sucky but I hope you get the point. Im a white male who can be in any clique I want and there are may African americans who are something they are not

    • LOLing Woman says:

      Your thought process (as revealed by your comment) is definitely part of the problem.
      _______________
      “In the white culture we can fit in the clique of rocker, hipster, geek, jock, student, and whatever else we want. There is variety that’s fits our personalities.. in the African amerian culture the only choices they get are “rapper/ghetto person” or nothing. There is no variety for African americans to be other than this clique so therefore I feel theyre never really able to develop themselves and form real connections with other people.”
      _______________

      Could it be that YOU and people like you are only able to see Black as either ghetto, rapper, or nothing???
      Could it be that YOU and people like you view each Black person as an UNDERDEVELOPED and DISCONNECTED non person???

      Well say hello to Miss Nothing. There are quite a lot of us – non ghetto, non rappers…. Educated, athletic, sci-fi geeks, nurses, teachers, musicians, etc.
      You’re right – your tired words ARE indeed sucky.

  2. It is also possible that his leaving messages on Twitter were in some way a call for help. As I said in an earlier paper published on this site, it is my belief that most individuals, even those who complete suicide, remain conflicted about the act. Some part of the person desires to live, yet has a difficult time believing that life will improve.
    While that being a call for help is possible I wonder if it was a matter of giving some sort of final notice to the few people that he knew cared about his whereabouts. Almost like a suicide note?

    Like they have weighed the difference between ending it all now and living and concluding that it really isn’t worth living on but they don’t want to leave without saying anything to their loved ones, or fans, or friends, or whoever they thought was of importance to them.

    Being black and male are definite points of intersection that need to be considered when trying help black men out with mental health issues as well as suicidal tendancies/thoughts/etc…

  3. @Mr. Johnson..You get so many things right , perhaps I can add something if value to the dialogue. Though I am 57 I still consider myself, in some ways to be a black youth. Don’t fret, it doesn’t reflect some kind of Peter Pan syndrome.

    I have raised three adult children who are good folks with college degrees. I have come to know the struggle with suicide to be as common to my existence as the sugar on my cereal. I have long since stopped hiding from it.

    As near as I can tell it is part and parcel to my existence as a hunted man in America.The first time I really thought an bout it I was scared. After awhile, I began to treat the thoughts like everything other unresolved pain and insult and broken promise and crumbling expectation I have ever endured as a consequence of my being a “free” black-man in America.
    I find it tremendously insulting to read Mr. Cloke’s assertion that Freddy spread his brains all over the internet because he adopted the patriarchal model of being.

    I have hated that model ever since I became aware enough to understand it’s meaning and impact on my life, which came at age 14.There was no other model for a 14 year old boy to emulate and to swim upstream against the tide left me disorientated and de-facto ostracized from my community, male and female. Hell, 14 years later things still hadn’t changed as I became a stay at home father many in my own extended family openly questioned my masculinity and again it was from males and females. I must go now, I will take this up with you again soon.

  4. @Bill…I must also say that I was stunned and insulted, though not surprised, to see Mr. Cloke’s assessment-judgement-that Freddy and other blackmen who committ suicide, do it for two reasons: They have adpoted the patriarcal model of masculinity and they don’t seek help from pyschologists.He also said that due these two issues, there was nothing that could have been done to save Freddy.Wow!?

    This is not my first bad experience with therapy. The first came when my mother went to a feminist therapist who told her family was killing her and she needed to get away from them in order to find herself; which she did. It apparently didn’t matter to the therapist that my mother was an abusive alchoholic whom had 9 children by 5 different men. and had created a choatic, untenable, situation for herself and her family. A more recent visit for couples counseling was just as bad and brimming with bias. We were there for anger mangement and I took my time searching for a therapist who had experience and understanding of the challegenes I faced as a man of color.I found one who said she had said skills,Over the course of 7 expensive hours -I live in the SF bay area- even though my partner pushed me and had demonstrated a mean jealous streak, all of the time was spent examinimg my anger.Wait just now a mom who grabbed her daughter and her daughter complained responded with “you better shut the fuck up before I slap you!” Just happened at the library.

    • Cat Mahari says:

      what is your point?
      I see that you have quoted a Mr. Cloke. According to you, Mr. Cloke believes that there is nothing that can be done about the issue of suicide of African American males. Dr. Johnson has not stated that – anywhere – in this article. Yet, you seem to devise an implication of agreement between these two professionals on that conclusion. Your use of logic has created an invalid statement.

      You also commented upon your negative experiences in therapy. While it is unfortunate that you have had traumatic relations with therapist, I have no idea what your point is. What are you trying to get at? It could be implied that you are in agreement with Dr. Johnson’s last statement “…clinicians to be culturally competent enough to integrate culture into their interventions and modify as needed.” You do state that your negative experiences, you believe, are derived at least in part, due to you being a man of color.

      Additionally, there is within your comments an implication that feminism has been used with malicious, short-sighted, and destructive intent during your experience with therapy. I can only assure you that feminism is concerned with equality, self-responsibility, and the creation of an alternative paradigm about gender, sexuality, civil rights; which can be used to uplift and empower all of humanity.

      Fortunately, I am not a mental health professional, so excuse me for saying you sound like you need some mental health professional assistance.

      Maybe you should contact Dr. Johnson.

      • I think that should change many things in society, we have created a society that makes us unhappy, something must be wrong don’t you think? In a consumer society, money is overrated. People think that money is happiness and lose their happiness in search of money. Discrimination exists as a power struggle with the power of money … I’m Mexican and this is our daily reality. Moreover technological advances are intended to isolate, to be distrustful and selfish. We have to look within ourselves and know that above all need love, and love is the creator of all things. Starting to love ourselves and to others … but why no one says? because we are ashamed to say it (and some unethical therapists omit it…I guess this is “the point” with Bill comment) … and this thinking does not fit into a system based on the marketing and consumerism, because love is free … everything is designed to be depressed, and if we continue like this, depression is increasingly common (sell more drugs, more sad people to manage … large companies to exploit by the way)

  5. Cat Mahari…unfortunately,I was experiencing some problems with my computer in a public space,so my message was disjointed. And that mother I saw and heard shocked me and pissed me off.I heard similar things growing up,my bad.Allow me to clarify. I think Mr Johnson gets it right and Mr Cloke gets it dangerously wrong and I would not reccomend his critical analysis of suicide by men of color to anyone.As Mr Johnson stated he doesn’t know why Freddy committed suicide because he didn’t know him which sounds reasonable to me.However,this didn’t prevent Mr Cloke from saying he KNEW exactly why Freddy and by extention why blackmen also committ suicide;really? In two sentences he summed up the reasons blackmen committ suicide. One reason was because he said,without having talked to Freddy or me,that blackmen committ suicide because they have adopted the patriarchy.I can’t find suicide by patriarchy anywhere,imagine. Why because it’s a political opinion- a thinlu veiled feminist opinion- not a therapeutic diagnosis.Mr Cloke on a previous post allowed his personal preferences color his professionalism. If you check the history of feminist pyschology,you will find that what my mother was told was not unsual and is consistent with Betty Friedan’s views on motherhood.I am sure that under the best circumstances feminism works as you say,but not always. Are you really suggesting that feminism is all the things you say all the time,please.I know the history of feminism even better than the vast majority of feminists I know. I know enough to not want them inside my head. As for whether or not I need therapy,of course,don’t you?You make it sound like its only for crazy people. Lol.

  6. Bill…Man,damn,I’m glad your here.The experiences I wrote of are real but are of secondary importance to me in this discussion. I work with youth at Oakland high school in Oakland,Ca and in the last eight years,11 kids I knew have been killed.Nonetheless,I’m in the mix,I matter and I love it.Understanding this stuff is important to me. Besides that, I have managed these kinds of thoughts my whole life.I even have a system I created to support that.I assumed these feelings were just a part of the burden of being a blackman in America. I was ten in 1965 when I first saw a picture of a blackman lynched and I cried barrels of tears and I vowed to never do anything that deserved that kind of treatment.By the time I was 15, I was numb,I’d stopped crying when I saw those pictures and I worn mental armor. When MLK was killed I was 13 and the older boys in my neighborhood who had never stolen anything ran wild in the streets burning and looting. I don’t want you to choose sides and critique Mr Clokes assessment of why blackmales committ suicide: That was easy to do. But a broader perspective is sorely needed that has depth and historical range,empathy,sensitivity and the belief that Freddy could have been saved.Unlike Mr Cloke fatalistic analysis.

  7. Cat Mahari… freddy and blackmen committ suicide for two reasons;1)they adpoted the patriarchy.Quantify that for me.Which blackmen?Of what generation?From what part of the country?What ages are they? What was there family background? What impact did social and institutional racism have? The point about not going to therapy is questionable as to its importance here.If in the past it wasn’t needed,why now?

  8. Bill…could you touch on the impact on the blackmale pysche of emasculation that comes from within the first circle of infulence of human development,the family.?Lauguage such as,”All blackmen ain’t shit!” “I don’t need no man.” ” All black men are weak.”,etc coming from internal sources. thank you.

  9. i hope men ignore the ‘silencing stance’ from the cat commenter, and continue to feel free to talk about suicide, vulnerability on this thread

  10. Thank you all so much for your comments.

    This is precisely the beginning of the type of dialogue I am hoping that people all around this nation are having. It is my opinion that with an issue as complex as the taking of one’s life that there is no easy answer or solution.

    OgWriter, I was saddened to hear about your experience while seeking assistance through psychological services. Unfortunately I too have received what I would describe as inadequate counseling when I was struggling with depression in the past. For that matter, I am sure that despite my strong desire to assist every client that walks into my office, there are times when I am not the ideal fit for them for one reason or another. During which case I am happy to refer them to a colleague or give them a list of other psychologist whom may better address their needs. My advice to anyone seeking therapy is to think of your search the same you would find the best medical doctor. You may have to ask around your community, family and friends. Or you it may be that you attend a few initial sessions before finding that ideal match.

    In reference to feminist theory, I agree with Cat’s reflections that most mainstream writings on liberal feminism (see bell hooks and Beverely Greene in particular) reflect a yearning for a more egalitarian society, with a rejection of power related to gender. Cat, I remain open to your feedback on how to integrate such ideas in mainstream writings and hold ourselves accountable for gender based oppression.

    In terms of feminist therapy, I personally believe that the principles of the Relational-Cultural model are perhaps the best theory for sustaining close interpersonal relationships. This theory critiques traditional Freudian and other more individualistic ideas and also centralizes the role of cultural context (http://www.jbmti.org/Our-Work/the-development-of-relational-cultural-theory). In an article I wrote entitled: Towards an Anti-Sexist Black American Male Identity, I use several ideas from this theory to explain how patriarchy at times separates Black men from our connection to our community as well as leaves us internally (intra- psychically) disconnected.

    Ultimately OgWriter I am glad to hear that you are dedicated to addressing the well-being and psychosocial needs of Black youth, and I am open to your feedback on how as a mental health practitioner I can continue to assist them through counseling as well as through my writings.

    Speaking now specifically about the issue of why Freddy E killed himself which, not coincidentally is the title of my piece: I want to reiterate that I cannot possibly know what thoughts circled the young man’s head as he decided to pull the trigger. I make this point clear in the article. However, many of you are correct in noting that I do make assertions as to why many people in general take their lives each year. To be clear, my assertions directly attribute completed suicide to severe depression. I tie this depression to what is commonly called the “cognitive triad”, a model for understanding depression which says the individual believes that his/her situation is hopeless (bad me), that he/she is not redeemable (bad world), and that their future will be horrible (bad future).

    I then make another assertion that Freddy E’s decision to make comments about his state of mind on twitter may indicate that he was feeling extreme loneliness and was reaching for help. I strongly believe that individuals who experience suicidal ideation as well as those whom complete suicide are ambivalent about doing so, a part of them, no matter how small, wants to live. I also fully agree with the comments of Danny, that Freddy E’s decision to take to twitter was also about leaving a final goodbye to those he loved and who loved him, similar to a suicide note. Danny, I feel that it can be true that Freddy E was both conflicted about self-destruction as well as wanted to leave a final note about his decision.

    So although I do not make claim to know demonstratively why Freddy E killed himself, I do however, make statements, some of which I am sure have been made by other theorists in the past (see Oliver Williams, Thomas Parham, Joe White, Miguel Gallardo, Jim Dobbins, just to name a few) that major reasons why suicide continues to kill thousands of Black youth is may be due in part to a lack of cultural competence/sensitivity on the part of mental health service providers, the collective silence surrounding mental health in the Black community, internalization of mainstream patriarchal norms, and relatedly a general stigma of mental health among Black men. I disagree with Ogwriter here, and I stand by these ideas as I fully believe they contribute to depression in our community.

    However it is fair to say that these are systematic issues and may not go far enough in explaining the specific decision making process of an individual Black male struggling with depression/suicidal ideation. Therefore I agree with Ogwriter on this point and I feel that more needs to be discussed and written to uncover the totality of dynamics surrounding such behavior.

    Finally, I am grateful to each of you for holding me accountable. I have no desire to dogmatically and inflexibly indoctrinate others into my ideas. As with perhaps each of you, I recognize and embrace the opportunity for additional learning and growth. Furthermore, as a mental health worker it is critical that I am frequently introspecting in order to uncover blind-spots or ways that I may continue to become a better man/brother/son/grandson/therapist.

    Let’s keep the dialogue going.

    Thank you all for the insightful comments.

  11. Bill… I don’t beieve in the patriarchy, I define myself. Thats what I teach the boy’s that I work with. I also teach them that confusing messages from the likes of bell hooks doesn’t help them, at all.I knew from the moment that I read Mr Cloke’s two sentences of indiffrent diagnosis of blackmale suicide that bell hooks theories,and I emphasize theories, were not far away.The statement that blackmales adpoted patriarchlism,as if they had choices, is such a deception. As Malcom X once said, ” I didin’t land on Plymounth Rock,Plymouth Rock landed on me.”Furthermore, this deception hides the very real involvement of black and white women in fostering the boys to follow the old school masculine models.Just minutes ago, a youg black woman sitting across from me was listening to Beyonce’s megahit,”I want a Soldier”.

    The song is an ode and yearning by women for the sexy- hot- gangster- and uber- masculine- gangster- blackmale persona.Imagine. The video and words are a suggestive bump and grind, classic American moneymaking trope; mixing sex and the potential for violence for teenage consumption.Who are you going to blem that on? On some fuzzy, mysterious, hard to pin down theories by bell hooks?

  12. Bill…Who did Beyonce, easily considered one of the most beautiful and influence and powerful women of her generation marry? She married Jay Z a certifiable gangster of the highest order, the man who made black gangsterism mainstream, a man who sold drugs to his community, and, is considered by many to represent the epitome of blackmale masculinity and success.Hell, even the President has him on speed dial.bell hooks has little credibility in my hood because of these kinds of oversights and biases she represents.These kinds of contradictions haunt feminism and female culture in general.I will start listening to bell hooks when she starts listening to the professed needs of the blackmale community.

    I beleive that the reasons you listed do contribute to depression in the community,but I don’t think they go far enough. For instance, I have never had anyone, a school counselor, a therapist, a priest, a nun, a clergyman or woman ask me how I managed the powerlessness and anger I felt seeing pictures of blackmen and women, bodies destroyed, mutilated and defiled.

    They never asked me how I managed to cope without hurting some one. They never asked how I managed to deal with the legacy of racism and all of its obstacles. America has never to my knowledge had a safe place where I,we can publicy, without fear of derious and censorship. discuss what I,we think about all of these things.So when a black mother goes off on her child right in front of me, I hold my tougue, Maybe one day people like you and bell hooks will say something.

  13. Bill.. Lastly on adopting the patriarchy. I was born into this choas my friend, I didn’t create it.And to tell some youngperson that they should adopt your views or bell hooks on masculinity when there is no support structure for a still developing mind and identify to fall back on creates more problems than it solves.I was a SAHD 28 yeras ago and because my extended family and society wasn’t ready for such a thing, I was isolated and was treated poorly by the mothers I came in contact with( this still happens today to some SAHD’s).

    Some of you people come up with your sterile theories in your cubicles and elitist academic encalves and haven’t the slightest idea how, on the ground, things really work. You and bell hooks tell Beyonce to stop dressing seductively while promoting gangsterism culture-secretly, but in plain sight, mixing sex with viloence- and I will keep ignoring the patriarchy as I have always done. THE TRIAD YOU MENTIONED IS EXACLTLY HOW I HAVE ALWAYS FELT IN AMERICA DUE TO MY PLACE IN IT PER THE CONSTITTUTION, THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEAND SYSTEMIC, LACK OF OPPORTUNITY

  14. Bill… one last, last thing. I am truly grafeful for your professionalism, which is not something that I have experienced before working with or talking to therapists.When one steps so clearly outside of the box, as I have, some people think you are crazy ;m). Thanks.

  15. According to the depression triad it seems most blackmen have felt this way at some point.If the APA really wants to help it would require a demonstration of cultural competence to practice and get a degree.Anything else is window dressing and shouldn’t be taken as a serious attempt at change.

  16. Cat Mahari says:

    Have you posted this (supposed) excerpt to state…what exactly?
    That you agree with Dr. Johnson’s approach to the subject?
    That you are aware that there is a discourse on this topic, and that some of those that write about it seem to be in agreement?

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  1. [...] masculinity and hip hop culture, and his own experience with suicidal feelings. He writes today, in “Why Did Freddy E Do It? Black Men and Suicide”: I can say that oftentimes the individual struggling with depression is convinced that he/she is [...]

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