24-year-old Black Man Fights For His Life

After injecting self with chemical used to euthanize animals

By Antoine Craigwell

(Update: According to sources close to the family, S*(to protect his identity) succumbed and died in the morning on Thursday, Jul 15. His family are in the process of trying to raise funds for a funeral. Corrections: in a previous publication of this article it mentioned “sucidology” when it should be “suicidality”. The study, funded by the National Center for Primary care collaborated with the University of North Carolina, Greensboro,  is currently under review for publication in the Journal of Homosexuality.)

(New York, NY) – As of time of writing, it is unknown whether a 24-year-old Black man,  is still struggling to live in a Brooklyn, New York hospital or has died after injecting himself with a chemical used to put animals down.

According to sources close to the family of the young man, who was seen last Sunday at a 4th July picnic in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, and who worked as an assistant at a veterinarian clinic, appeared to be in good spirits. Sources said that when he returned to work on Tuesday, after receiving a phone call, he reportedly injected himself with the same chemical used to euthanize animals and was found unconscious by a co-worker in the men’s bathroom.

The young man’s mother is reported to be blaming his girlfriend for pressuring him. But reports also claim that his girlfriend was constantly trying to get him to continue with improving himself. The source said that the young man who is believed to be of Trinidadian descent, migrated to the United States with his family as a child, and it was discovered that he was exceptionally intelligent, earning high marks up through high school. It was revealed that although he did well in school, when he was in his early teens, something happened which caused him to loose focus, his grades slipped and he failed to earn admission to college.

Despite the outward appearances, the greatest unknown: what internal battles were raging in this young man’s head, which left him feeling he had no other option but to end his life?

According to John Eaton of the John Hopkins Center for Global Health, depression is a silent killer which affects people early, from as young as 14 or 15-years old, and becomes chronic. He argues that as a mental illness, it leads to loss of productivity, affecting jobs and social lives, and costs approximately $100 billion a year. Close to two out of three people suffering from depression still experience depression even though they are being treated, which Eaton suggests, that current treatments are not very effective. He says that depression affects everyone regardless of social status, affecting the social fabric, rich and poor alike, but as is often the case, the rich people can afford and receive treatment, while the poor suffer more.

Depression in Black gay men hardly registers, even as a blip, on the national radar of mental health issues. As a mental illness, depression rearing its ugly head, manifests in the high numbers of unreported suicide attempts by Black gay men. Outside of choosing traditional methods, such as slitting wrists, hanging, shooting themselves, overdosing on prescription drugs, or jumping from high places, reports are surfacing of increases in narcotic and alcohol abuse, rampant sexual promiscuity, and more creative ways such as suicide by proxy – placing themselves in positions for either death by cop or dangerous life threatening conditions. Some also choose “bug chasing”, deliberately setting out to contract HIV by having promiscuous unprotected sex, as a way of committing slow suicide. Other aspects such as sexual abuse and the resulting trauma, the numbers of incarcerated Black men, and the older Black gay male community, who are twice silenced, are just a few areas in the community where there are un-and under reported cases of depression.

Yet, Louis Graham, MPH says, that while there are insufficient studies into the mental health state of Black gay men, the most robust study of depression among Black gay men to date shows that Black men experience less depression than White gay men, Black gay men experience more suicidality.

The Jun 2 White House summit of government officials, professionals, academics, researchers, and heads of social service agencies on HIV/AIDS drew attention to the mental health of men who have sex with men (MSM) as one area in need of attention in the fight against HIV and AIDS. While the summit only mentioned this as an area of concern, not much more was said or commitments to action to address the mental health of Black gay men as a sourcing point to effect HIV intervention and prevention was being done. After the Championship game on Jun 18, when NBA Los Angeles Laker’s champion Ron Artest publicly thanked his psychiatrist in a post game interview, he was admitting to the entire world that as a Black man he has mental issues, and that he has had to use the services of a professional. That was a major and groundbreaking feat for the Black community, particularly for Black men, many who are reluctant to see a therapist.

A journalist, Glenn Townes, in a 2007 article “Tale of a Wounded Warrior: One Man’s Battle Against Depression” for the Infinity Institute International, Inc., Website, says of his struggle with depression, “I still find there’s a strong stigma to African Americans and therapy, particularly for brothers. Tell someone you’re seeing a shrink and they just may haul off and hit you with: “Man, you must be crazy.” But I think it’s just the opposite: Sometimes you’d have to be crazy not to seek therapy.”

In the Black community, there are many reasons why the issue of depression is not addressed. Some suggest that as a subject it is taboo to speak one’s business to someone else. Others, it is a sign of weakness not suited to Black men. Artest’s announcement single handedly dispelled both those stereotypes. The specter of the Tuskegee experiment still lurks in the background, carrying some fear and suspicion in the Black community to participating in studies or research to properly qualify and quantify the prevalence and devastating effects of mental illness.

Some Black psychological professionals agree that there aren’t enough of them in proportion to the needs of the Black community, let alone the Black gay community. There is also some agreement that many Black psychological professionals are not motivated enough to undertake in-depth studies into the specific characteristics that cause depression in the Black community. Others claim that there is no difference between races for Black people to be singled out, while some have pointed out that in the Black gay community, along with the racism and expectations of simply being Black and male, the stigma and discrimination that comes with being gay adds another level of psychosocial stress.

Another aspect of the dynamic of depression in the Black gay community is founded in some psychological professionals who have a pie-in-the-sky, happy-faces-type attitude, where it’s all about positive thinking and outcomes. Juan Battle, a sociologist at City University of the New York Graduate Center who has just launched a Social Justice Sexuality project says, “The social justice sexuality project (more broadly) as well as my research/publications (more specifically) do not address issues of depression among black gay men. Instead, I tend to focus on resiliency models. [I]n other words, instead of pathologizing the gay experience, I tend to celebrate it.”

Others, such as Alexandre Sacha Vinton, MD, director of the Brooklyn, NY-based Vaya Institite, believes that the Black gay community is still lacking in core development and that anyone who enters into the discourse of the mental health state of the Black gay community is rendering a disservice and perpetuating a fraud by not having completed the requisite training. The training, which Dr. Vinton advocates, is a system he designed, a core competency process with structures (a reworked Myers-Briggs type analysis) that ultimately leads to a paradigm shift in thinking, away from the traditional methods of psychotherapy and treatment. He insists that for the Black gay community to move beyond the pathology and the pervasive “negativity” endemic in it, that its members have to be trained in a new way of thinking. This, new way of thinking involves subscribing to his process and system, something along the lines of the psychological equivalent of a comprehensive theory of matter, and until such time, he is sticking to his position of a need for a change.

But, cases such as those of Keith and the 24-year-old young man who injected himself, contradicts the assumptions of Battle and Dr. Vinton and indicates that there is a deeper problem crying out for attention, as is each suicide attempt, successful or failed. Keith (name changed to protect his identity), a 50-year-old Black gay man, who after his fourth failed suicide attempt (hanging himself with rope tied to a pipe in the basement of the house he shared with friends in Williamsburg, Brooklyn), checked himself into New York Psychiatric Hospital. After facing his demons, receiving the necessary treatment, including medication and talk therapy, and is still seeing a therapist, he is pursuing his bachelors to become a paralegal. It was the encouragement he received from his closest friends and his eventual success story, which seems to go against the models proscribed by Battle and Dr. Vinton.

Graham, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Public Health, School of Health and Human Performance at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, says, “I argue however, that we are measuring depression incorrectly among Black gay men. We cannot use the same tools to measure depression among Black gay men that we use among White gay men, because depression looks differently in Black gay men and Black gay men express symptomology differently. Depression accompanies suicidality in 90 to 95-percent of the cases, so it is highly unlikely that Black gay men experience depression less than White gay men do if they experience more suicidality.”

He argues that the reason it looks as if Black gay men experience less depression is that the measurement tools developed for, by, and normed on White gay men are not accurate and precise enough to pick up depression among Black gay men. The challenge, he says, of a random sample from broadly generalizable data is problematic because national random sample surveys don’t include sexuality information, don’t over sample Black sexual minority men enough to get significant results, don’t address issues specific to Black sexual minority men, or there are measurement issues. Consequently, he adds, this is one of only a couple of studies to look exclusively at these particular issues among sexual minority men.

Supporting Graham’s arguments, a March 2010 academic article “Depression is Associated with Sexual Risk Among Men Who Have Sex with Men, but is Mediated by Cognitive Escape and Self-Efficacy,” focused directly on the specific issue of the underlying cause responsible for risky sexual behavior among MSM. The authors, Lisa Alvy and David McKirnan of the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Gordon Mansergh and Stephen Flores of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), in Atlanta, GA; and others, conducted an investigation of a national sample of 1,540 HIV-positive and HIV-negative MSM, who reported unprotected sex and drug use with sex partners. “We found evidence that depression is related to HIV transmission risk. Qualitative research with MSM in community settings suggests that depression and negative affect are strongly associated with risky sex,” the researchers say.

But, a study funded by the National Center for Primary Care in collaboration with the University of North Carolina, Greensboro conducted between February and April 2010, sampled 110 Black sexual minority men from the Triad area in North Carolina, and revealed that 30 percent of the men screened were depressed, and 33 percent said they experienced anxiety. Each group, according to reports of the study,  currently under review for the Journal of Homosexuality indicated rates higher than the general population among white gay men, and Black heterosexual men. There was a 52-percent variance in depression in relation to violence, discrimination, and harassment (VDH), he says, and an additional 13-percent variance in depression related to internalized homonegativity in the men. With respect to variances in anxiety, internalized homonegativity accounted for 46-percent and VDH, 7-percent variance, he says.

A 2004 CDC report, said that Black men MSM now account for 30 percent, the largest proportion, of all Black men diagnosed with HIV. The mental health of Black MSM has to be taken into account while addressing the rising numbers of HIV infections, is a recurring theme in academic articles, and is often heard in panel discussions and presentations. Many Black academicians have published articles in varying psychological and sociological journals, and many have admitted that on the issue of depression in Black gay men there is a dearth in material for the layperson.


About AntoineB

As an award-winning journalist and public speaker, Antoine B. Craigwell is currently writing a book about depression in Black gay men. Previously as a journalist he reported for several prominent business magazines, community-based newspapers, and online magazines. In 2008, he earned two awards from the New York Association of Black Journalists. Antoine graduated from Bernard M. Baruch College of the City University of New York with degrees in journalism and psychology. As a member of the New York Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Baruch College Alumni Association, Antoine is actively involved in giving back to his community. He often speaks at several different fora, participates in panel discussions, and in interviews, including with Laura Flanders of Grit TV discussing the violence and homophobia in the film, "Bruno."
This entry was posted in African gay men, African Gay men Mental health, African-American gay men health, African-American gay men mental health, African-Americans Gay Men in Higher Learning, Afro-Caribbean gay men, Afro-Caribbean gay men mental health, Black gay men, Depression and Black gay men in Colleges, Depression as a mental illness, Depression in Black gay men and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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