May 18-24 is National Prevention Week, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to increase public awareness of, and action around, substance abuse and mental health issues. Each day carries its own unique theme, with today’s focusing on suicide prevention.

Louis Graham, DrPH, spoke to Public Health Newswire about the link between protecting “the most marginalized people” and suicide prevention, the latter of which matches Prevention Week’s Thursday theme. Graham is a member of APHA’s LGBT Caucus, Mental Health Section, and HIV-AIDS Section.

Find out more about National Prevention Week at APHA online, including podcasts on underage drinking, prescription drug abuse and mental health promotion.

Louis Graham

Louis Graham

In Social Determinants of Health Among African-American Men, one chapter — Psychosocial Health of Black Sexually Marginalized Men — lists of the names of some of the young gay, same-gender-loving, and bisexual men who committed suicide in 2010.

Each year more names are added to the list.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for black men ages 15-24, according to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and LGBT youths are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youths. Black sexually marginalized men may be 1.2 times more likely to attempt suicide than their white counterparts. Depression and anxiety, harmful identity development, isolation and micro-aggressions, and institutional violence and discrimination are key factors that influence suicide — particularly related to school dropout, chronically high unemployment, and criminal justice system engagement.

Suicide among black sexually marginalized men is a reflection of the very worst a society can become when it bullies children out of school, erects barriers to employment, banishes individuals from churches and isolates them in jails and prisons. To contend with these structural and institutional forces, communities look to extended kinship networks that support them, the stories that sustain them, their cultural practices of resistance and the strength of past generations for resilience. Suicide among black gay and similarly identified men presents us with both the responsibility and opportunity to better wield the lens of “intersectionality” for this and other communities at the intersections of multiple-marginalized identities. Intersectionality embodies the idea that the crossing of multiple forms of oppression — with respect to ethnicity, sexuality, and other classifications — generates disparate arrays of perspectives and consequences among individuals and groups.

We stand to learn the most from our most marginalized people. If we can successfully address grave mental health inequities for those most disproportionately impacted among us, we can do so for the entire country. Prioritizing and investing in innovative, transformational and culturally grounded research, policy change, and impact projects would also have a positive impact on the HIV/AIDS and chronic diseases plaguing marginalized communities.