cover image Lay My Burden Down: Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans

Lay My Burden Down: Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans

Alvin F. Poussaint, Amy Alexander. Beacon Press (MA), $23 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-0960-4

In a much needed cultural wake-up call, Poussaint, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and Alexander, a journalist and editor, present the startling revelation that suicides among black youth jumped 114% from 1980 to 1995. From its unsentimental opening showing the decline of two promising young men who fatally succumbed to the burden of mental illness, drug abuse and racism, this book seeks to unravel the puzzle of increasing despair and depression among black youth. The authors begin by showing how poor, sometimes even cruel, treatment of African-Americans by the health-care establishment has alienated many black people, even though their children may need care for self-destructive and suicidal behavior. Having both lost younger brothers to suicide, Poussaint and Alexander know suicide's pain and finality first-hand, and how it can be as sudden and abrupt as a gunshot to the head or as lengthy and extended as heroin addiction or alcoholism. Using case histories and interviews, their book puts a human face on the act of suicide, while employing current research data to discuss the narrowing gap between black and white suicide rates. Eager to dispatch the old stereotype of ""the blues and poverty"" as leading causes of suicide among African-Americans, the authors insist it also occurs among blacks who are educated, productive and successful, due to the psychological stress of working daily in a white setting. Poussaint and Alexander conclude their well-documented discussion of the crisis with clear-eyed recommendations for how society can curb the soaring number of African-American suicides. Agents, Lori Perkins and Ike Williams. (Sept.)