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Suicide and the Black Church

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell

“Suicide and the Black Church Conference 2011” is slated for Wednesday and Thursday, June 22-23, at the University of Tennessee’s Mid-town campus. “Suicide and the Black Church Conference 2011” is slated for Wednesday and Thursday, June 22-23, at the University of Tennessee’s Mid-town campus. Heavy hitters in mental health and suicide prevention will be joined by hundreds of conveners from around the country.

Bishop and Senior Pastor William M. Young  of the Healing Center Full Gospel Baptist Church, and Pastor Diane Young of the Healing Center, are co-hosts for the 5th Annual Suicide and the Black Church Conference. (Courtesy photo)

“Dr. John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network in New York City will be here,” said Bishop William M. Young, senior pastor at the Healing Center.  

“Dr. Donna Holland Barnes, founder of the National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide, and Dr. Gerald Durley, pastor of the historic Providence Baptist Church in Atlanta,  will also be on hand, just to name a few.”

According to national statistics, African-American males between the ages of 18-35 are among the fastest-growing population at-risk for suicide.

“The number of suicides in our community has increased more than 200 percent over the past decade,” said Young. “Undiagnosed or misdiagnosed depression among our young men is the leading cause. We must address these mental health concerns to halt this plague among our young people.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reports that more African-American women attempt suicide, but more of their male counterparts actually succeed. Firearms are the principal method used for males while females most often try a pill overdose.

“Alarming suicide rates are also on the rise for youth between the ages of 10-17,” said Dr. Young. “Our children are suffering from depression in record numbers. Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary circumstances. We must stem this tide, and there is a great urgency. Black churches must lead the charge.”

Reservations for the conference are still available. Those interested in attending may call co-host, Pastor Dianne Young, at The Healing Center church office, 901-370-HOPE (4673).

‘And still, I wait’

June 19 will mark the third anniversary of Eric Carmichael’s death. His mother still remembers every detail.

 Diane Pruddle

“Eric was 19 when he took his life,” said Diane Pruddle, an LPN who lives and works in Coldwater, Miss. “My son played drums and the bass guitar for nine or 10 quartets and church choirs. I still sit and wait for him to get home from one of those services. Denial helps me to escape the reality, even just for a moment.”

Pruddle said her son particularly loved playing drums. “That boy actually started beating on things when he was nine months old. By age seven, he was playing drums for the adult choir at church,” she said.

“He was also a great athlete. In high school, he was the second-fastest runner in the state of Mississippi. He became ill and spent some time in the hospital. One of his medications started to make him feel ‘crazy,’ he would say. Eric became depressed, combative, and lost his memory.”

When he got home, Pruddle would remind Eric to take his medication. He would, although he really did not want to.

“One evening, I called him to come home. He had stayed over with a friend for two days, and I wanted him home to make sure he was all right. Eric said he was tired, and went to his room to lie down,” she recalled.

“Shortly after that, I  heard a gunshot from inside Eric’s room. I screamed his name, but the door wouldn’t open. A bookcase was blocking it. His friend and two nephews helped me get the door open.”

They picked Eric up and brought him out to the hallway. Pruddle began to perform CPR, but his pulse was getting weaker. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

“I let myself imagine that he’ll walk through the door any minute,” said Pruddle.

“ Eric’s death changed us forever – my 11-year-old daughter and I. We believe the Lord will ease the pain one day. And still, I wait….”

‘Suicide kills an entire family’

A few years ago, Stephen Smith – now the Rev. Stephen Smith, pastor of Sure House Church in Collierville, sat in stunned silence at the news of his brother’s death. Not only was the death tragically early, but inconceivably wrought by his brother’s own hand.

“Life was as good as it could get for our family,” said Smith. “It was 1989, our parents were making good money, and my brother and I had lives full of promise ahead. I was 23. He was 20.”

The younger Smith graduated with honors from Central High School with a 4.4 average, excellent SAT and ACT test scores, and eager Ivy League schools courting his favor. Twenty-two years later, Smith still cannot talk about how the suicide was completed.

“Back in 1989, this kind of thing was virtually unheard of in our community,” said Smith. “How I wish we had known what manic depression was destroying his will to live. He was brilliant – and I mean brilliant. No one doubted that his dreams would take him far. Suicide kills an entire family, not just the victim.”

Smith and his parents maneuvered through various stages of grief, including guilt, shame, sorrow, anger and blaming the victim.

“We survived beyond that tragic day, but our lives were changed forever.”

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