"The grieving process becomes more difficult for African Americans
simply because they [have] no forum in which to grieve when they lost a loved
one to suicide," wrote Donna Barnes, Ph.D., in an article in the August
2006 Journal of Black Psychology.
Barnes reported on her extensive interviews with 19 black families who lost
a family member to suicide.
"Unfortunately, some African Americans continue to deny that suicide
is a problem within the black community," she said. "This
community denial makes it difficult for families to heal when they have lost
someone to suicide."
Barnes writes as both a researcher and a participant. The spark for her
article came when she found herself the only black member of a survivors'
support group after her son committed suicide. Very few African Americans
attended support groups, even as black suicide rates rose from 1980 to 1995.
Those who chose to do so had to go outside their own community.
To better understand the experience of bereaved survivors, she spent
several hours talking with them in the course of a semistructured
Within the black community, survivors were met with "an unspoken but
pervasive code of silence," said Barnes. "Suicide may represent
not only an individual failure, but also the failure of the
Black churches offered little help, said the respondents, possibly because
they consider suicide an unpardonable sin.
Often, others tried to minimize individual suffering by placing it in the
context of the historical trials of blacks in the United States. Someone told
a woman whose son had killed himself: "Why not forget about it and get
on with your life? We have survived hundreds of years of strife, and we should
be able to handle this."
In other cases, surviving spouses felt they were being blamed for the
suicide, deepening the wounds they felt.
Her study suggests that while whites and blacks may have similar
difficulties with stigmatization or finding an appropriate setting to grieve,
whites more often consider suicide a product of mental illness and thus are
more likely to seek help and find support.
"Grief is difficult if there is no means of social or community
support," she concluded. The grieving process becomes more difficult for
African Americans... simply because there is nowhere to grieve in their own
"The Aftermath of Suicide Among African Americans" is