African-American residents, who make up the largest minority group in Milwaukee County, are committing suicide at a higher rate this year than at any time in the past 10 years, according to data from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office.
This alarming rate is consistent with a national suicide crisis in communities of color, a trend that preceded but was exacerbated by the pandemic.
Since 2013, the average number of black people who committed suicide each year in Milwaukee County, from January to September, was about 12 people.
In 2015, there were a minimum of five people during this time period, but the number reached 23 people in 2022.
The Asian and Pacific Islander communities also experienced a sharp increase in the percentage of people committing suicide.
In raw numbers, the average number of suicides in a year, from January to September, among Asian/Pacific Islander residents is about two people.
In 2022, the number of suicides was six.
The number of suicides among white and Hispanic residents are currently hovering around or below their respective 10-year averages.
Suicides among white residents reached their pre-pandemic peak at 95, from January to September 2017.
During that time period in 2022, the number of suicides was 59, lower than the 10-year average of 67.
For Hispanic residents, the county’s second-largest minority group, the 10-year average for this time period is about six people who committed suicide during that span this year.
In March, County Executive David Crowley helped launch the Community Health & Healing Series, a series of talks and events addressing mental health for all county residents. The talks examined barriers to care and the ways in which people can access services.
But the data from the forensic doctor help to complete this picture.
Data shows that suicide affects all groups in Milwaukee County and is increasing among some minority groups.
Investigate indicates in the decade from 2010 to 2020, suicides rose dramatically among Americans of color, but more dramatically among blacks.
As the crisis continues in Milwaukee, revealing its own trends and patterns, it is worth reviewing the barriers and resources specific to Milwaukee’s Black communities.
‘They didn’t understand how to take care of black people’
Imadé Nibokun, founder and CEO of Depressed While Black, a nonprofit addressing gaps in mental health services for black people, is candid about her own experiences with self-harm and the failure of the care system. mental health to give him the support he needed.
“I’ve experienced many times, many different points of contact, with the mental health system, and they didn’t acknowledge that I was in distress because they didn’t understand how to care for Black people who are struggling.” Nibokun said.
The experience of seeking help but not getting the right one only deepened her crisis.
“When I got out of the hospital…I was more suicidal than before,” Nibokun said. “I recognized that I asked for help and I didn’t feel better, I felt much more disappointed.”
“A lot of times, black people don’t believe their symptoms,” said Dr. Lia Knox, co-founder of Black Space, an organization that tailors mental health support and events for communities of color. “Depression hurts, anxiety hurts… but doctors, nurses, and physicians may not create these symptoms.”
This common experience creates ongoing tension between Black communities and mental health systems.
“Historical dehumanization, oppression, and violence against Black and African-American people has evolved into current structural, institutional, and individual racism, cultivating an exceptionally distrustful and less prosperous community experience characterized by myriad disparities, including inadequate access to and delivery of care in the health system”, to a report from Mental Health America, an advocacy group for people with mental illness.
Nibokun once told a therapist that he felt suicidal. Soon after, she took a nap, and because her therapist was unable to reach her, the therapist called the police for a wellness check.
“All I could see were their weapons,” Nibokun said.
This is a typical example, he said, of the kind of mental health care Black people all too often receive, a kind of “punitive care or prison care, a kind of care where police and punitive measures are used first and foremost.” single intervention”. And it can be scary.”
Knox said that in her experience, the stigma around mental health within the black community is yet another barrier preventing black people from getting help.
Many blacks “see it as a sign of personal weakness or moral failure … so we tend to move on,” he said.
During a discussion In one of the events of the Community Health & Healing series, Crowley cited his personal experience with this type of stigma, referring to the mental health of a family member.
“When it came to getting help for that person, nobody wanted to touch it, because nobody wants to consider a person ‘crazy,'” he said.
However, Nibokun describes stigma as a survival tool in the face of racism and discrimination.
“I often say that stigma is a response to structural inequality,” Nibokun said. “Historically, blacks were punished for expressing any mental anguish.”
“There really hasn’t been a time in history where it was safe for black people to say they need help,” he added.
This trend, he said, continues to this day in other forms. If a black person says he needs help or is in crisis, he “may lose his children or lose his job.”
Groups in Milwaukee respond
The pandemic, if it did anything, put an exclamation point on these discrepancies in risk factors and the resources available to Black people with mental health needs.
There are some notable examples within Black communities in Milwaukee that lead by example, including Black Space and Depressed While Black.
Knox and her colleagues have designed “therapeutic experiences” specifically to address these barriers.
The first order of business for Knox is to tackle the stigma head-on and “normalize the discussion about mental health and wellness … and dispel myths about mental illness,” he said.
As an African-American physician, Knox’s presence in the mental health space begins to do the normalizing job, as just over 4% of psychology workforce in the US It is black.
“At least 80% of the people in our groups say they would love to have a therapist who is like them,” Knox said.
Nibokun’s work grew directly from his own experiences with hospitalization and culturally incompetent care.
Through Depressed While Black, Nibokun works with psychiatric hospitals to provide their black patients with hygiene kits with hair and skin care items specifically tailored to their needs.
Not only does this allow “patients to live with dignity and care,” Nibokun said, but a patient’s discharge date from the hospital “is often related to their appearance. If you can’t fix yourself, your discharge date is delayed.” “
Nibokun also works to connect black people with black therapists, a connection that was key in getting him the help he needed.
“Despite the trauma I endured in the mental health system, I was able to find black mental health professionals who saved my life,” Nibokun said.
Milwaukee County is building services around the needs of the community, “regularly looking at suicide death data,” said Andrea Nauer-Waldschmidt, psychiatric crisis services coordinator for the county Department of Health and Human Services. Extending services to people who are incarcerated, as well as after their release, is one example, she added.
Other examples include offering youth-targeted suicide prevention programs and changes to county access clinics, where outpatient crisis services are available, Nauer-Waldschmidt said.
The county relocated one of these clinics to an area that “had a lack of availability of mental health resources and deliberately found health partners within those communities,” Nauer-Waldschmidt said. “A person having access to care closer to where they live is an important part of removing some of those barriers to accessing care.”
where you can find help
One version of this story was Originally published by the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, a nonprofit news organization covering Milwaukee’s diverse neighborhoods. The non-profit organization Wisconsin Watch collaborates with Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin, other media outlets, and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, published or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.