Time to Shatter the Black Suicide Myth

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page revisits the suicide of his ex-wife, Leanita McClain, an award-winning journalist, in light of Don Cornelius' death. He says that black people have long nourished a dangerous myth that we do not commit suicide.

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Conquering the myth of blacks and depression (Thinkstock)

In his column at the Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page says that in light of Don Cornelius' death, it is time to conquer the myth that blacks do not commit suicide. To drive home his point, he revisits the suicide of his ex-wife, Leanita McClain, who was an award-winning Chicago Tribune journalist.

... suddenly became an expert because of a personal tragedy, as many Chicagoans know. Back in May 1984, suicide ended the life and career of Leanita McClain, an award-winning Chicago Tribune columnist and ghetto-to-Gold-Coast success story.

She was also my former wife. She killed herself with an overdose of prescribed pills two years after our divorce. Her upward career trajectory, like our marriage, was stopped only by the furies of her relentless depression.

"Happiness is a private club that will not let me enter," she wrote in her "generic suicide note."

It is not hard, although it is not pain-free either, for me to imagine that Don Cornelius could have written the same message. Suicides inflict a terrible cruelty on the survivors. Everyone asks "why" and there are no easy answers. I was surprised by how many of my friends came forth to share stories of their own loved ones who had ended their lives or come close to it in their severe depression. I was shocked by how common such illnesses can be, regardless of race or community background.

I also learned about guilt. "People feel guilty if they failed to get help for their lost loved one," a counselor told me, and they feel guilty if they did get help and the loved one killed him or herself anyway. It is best to seek help. Whether you believe it or not, you have too much to lose.

Read Clarence Page's entire column at the Chicago Tribune.

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