Suicide of Ian Alexander should ring the alarm on the mental health crisis

by Tanesha Peeples
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By now we’ve all probably learned about the unfortunate suicide of actress Regina King’s son, Ian Alexander.

I was deeply saddened when I heard the news because as beloved, Black Hollywood royalty, Regina is our big cousin and her loss is our loss. But even more depressing, I don’t think we’re having the larger conversation about how prevalent depression, mental health issues and suicide are in our communities, especially amongst Black youth.

The pandemic exposed a whole lot of disparities in the Black community, especially youth suicide and ideation. In 2021 it was reported that suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youth ages 10-19.

Just last week I joined a call with about six other peers, two of which said their children suffered from suicidal ideations and had to be hospitalized multiple times. And while I’ll applaud the bravery and vulnerability in sharing their family’s struggles, it was mind blowing and heartbreaking to hear that much tragedy in such a small group. That’s when I knew this issue was real.

suicide regina king ian alexander

Ian Alexander Jr. was a musician and DJ who performed as “Desduné.” LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 24: (L-R) Regina King and Ian Alexander Sr. attend the 2019 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 24, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/AMA2019/Getty Images for dcp)

Using drugs to cope

When I think about how many youth are abusing drugs and alcohol just to get through the day, it’s agonizing and infuriating. A few years ago,  I visited my friend’s 10th grade classroom to get programming input from her students. When I stepped through the door, the stench of marijuana damn near knocked me back into the hallway.

After the class ended, I asked my friend if kids coming to school high was common and she said yes–and also threw in the fact that some show up drunk early in the morning. That really pissed me off because it’s clearly a method of coping with internalized pain and suffering, turning our young people into slaves to substance abuse.

And everywhere we look, there are institutions to tear us down and nothing to build us up.

Lack of resources in urban neighborhoods

I was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago. In most of the Black neighborhoods here, you can find a liquor store, a church (open or shuttered) and a fast food restaurant selling greasy ass sandwiches on almost every block.

But on the flip side, you have to search far and wide for a grocery store/healthy food options, good schools and most importantly, quality health facilities (hospital, clinic, or mental health/social services agency).

And during his reign of oppression as Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel shut down half of the city’s mental health clinics along with closing over 50 schools in predominantly Black and Brown communities. 

Black youth need more mental health spaces

I’ve been to other cities with the exact same layout in Black communities–all by design. Our young people have easy access to everything that helps destroy their bodies, living in environments with dynamics that murder their spirits with little to no space for healing.

That’s a cocktail for depression, mental health issues and suicide–killing them and our communities slowly.

Y’all, we have a preexisting mental health crisis in our community. It’s been exacerbated by the pandemic and manifests itself in different ways. When we talk about Black lives mattering, we have to consider all of them and the ways they’re impacted by systemic oppressionnot just the ones murdered by police.

The passing of Ian Alexander Jr. should remind us that we have to be more vigilant. We need more mental health spaces and outlets for youth to express themselves so that they know their lives matter and are worth living.

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