Death of NC civil rights leader highlights need for suicide prevention tailored to helping Black men

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Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Death of NC civil rights leader ruled suicide
Rev T. Anthony Spearman, a civil rights advocate and former president of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, died by suicide last summer.

A civil rights advocate and former president of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP died by suicide in his Greensboro home last summer, according to an autopsy report released Tuesday.

NAACP President, Rev T. Anthony Spearman's passion and fierce personality were the foundation of his fight for justice.

You may recall his journey for justice, which played out in front of the executive mansion for weeks demanding Gov. Roy Cooper grant a full pardon to Dontae Sharpe.

Spearman's long legacy adds to the shock of his death for some, but experts say mental health can and does affect people in all walks of life.

"When you don't feel like you have an outlet or a resource to help you move through the difficult times. Often people can feel like there's no other way out, but just to try to leave removing themselves from the situation by doing something as drastic as committing suicide," explained Dr. Anthony Smith, a licensed psychologist at Alase Center for Enrichment in Durham.

Smith said mental health is still a subject considered taboo in the Black community but it's time for the Black community to start talking, especially men and the numbers show why. Between 2011 and 2020, the suicide rate among Black men was three times that of Black women.

The numbers paint an even more drastic picture for young Black males between the ages of 10 and 19 years old. During the same timeframe, the suicide rate for Black men between 10-19 years of age increased by 60%.

"We are taught as men to be tough, to suck it up, to never let them see you cry. Right? That's, those are the markers (of) being a strong man. And it really creates a false dichotomy in that's really not strength, because the pain, the stress, the frustration, the depression, you're just holding it in," Smith said.

Smith went on to say that there are several reasons--from social media to stigma--contributing to why we are seeing suicide rates increase in Black males.

"We're still coming out of COVID. We're still dealing with racial trauma in this country. We're still dealing with economic instability. There are a lot of things that are just regular living and life challenges that we all have as humans living on this planet. So, it's important to just be vigilant in our awareness of how people are, they're exhibiting signs of depression," he explained.

Smith also shared there's a lack of representation in the mental health space, which could prevent some Black males from getting care. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 2% of practicing psychiatrists and 4% of psychologists in the U.S. are Black.

"I get people coming in who are seeking out some someone specifically like me, but there aren't many of me to go around. And also, it's a cost factor as well. And so we really need to have more affordable outlets for people to be able to go in and talk to mental health practitioners, who can help them from a perspective of understanding where they are," said Smith.

If you are experiencing suicidal, substance use or other mental health crises please call or text the new three-digit code at 988. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to