Regina King’s son and musician Ian Alexander Jr. died by suicide Friday night, just two days after his 26th birthday.
“Our family is devastated at the deepest level by the loss of Ian. He is such a bright light who cared so deeply about the happiness of others. Our family asks for respectful consideration during this private time,” a statement from King provided by her representative said.
Alexander Jr. followed in the footsteps of his father, record producer Ian Alexander Sr., and became a DJ performing under the name “Desduné”.
He was King’s only child, who she expressed a great amount of love for in an interview with CNN in 2011.
“I get emotional because my son is an amazing young man, and it took me to be a mother for me to realize how incredible of a woman [my mother] is,” King said. “You don’t know what unconditional love is. You may say you do, but if you don’t have a child, you don’t know what that is. But when you experience it, it is the most fulfilling ever. So, that is the greatest part about me. Being a mom to Ian.”
The death of Alexander Jr., a young man with resources for help has many asking “why?”
What could have possibly led to someone taking their life at such a young age? While we mat never know, or need to know, the exact circumstances that led to the tragic event, we can narrow down to one important reason: mental health.
There has been a significant shift in the way we talk about mental health in America, and an even bigger shift in the Black community.
Younger generations like Black Millennials and Generation Z have been the biggest advocates for healing through therapy and asking for help when needed, but the struggle to highlight the importance of mental health in the Black community is far from finished.
We are still fighting against the stigmas that come with mental health issues and illnesses like depression, major anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. These conditions, which are commonly caused by external factors and hereditary patterns are still not perceived with the same level of seriousness as physical conditions.
What are the reasons for these lingering stigmas?
Lack of education, generational differences and culture.
This isn’t to say that the lack of education surrounding mental health and illnesses is specific to the Black community, it is a nationwide (and even international) problem.
- Lack of education and misconceptions
Mental illnesses are often viewed as personal failures instead of genetic disorders.
Dopamine, for example, is a neurotransmitter responsible for communicating signals between the nerve cells of our brains. It is an important part of a functioning central nervous system.
It controls our ability to feel pleasure, activates our fight-or-flight responses, movement, our thoughts and emotions, and it regulates certain hormones and glands.
Dopamine deficiency is a real condition and is often hereditary. Dopamine deficiency is often the cause of Schizophrenia, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Parkinson’s Disease, and Substance Abuse Disorder and Addiction.
When we’re more educated on what mental illnesses actually are, how they function and how they can be passed on, and how to help someone with these conditions, we can be more accepting and have less misconceptions about illnesses and the people dealing with them.
2. Generational Differences
No, the generations aren’t getting softer. No, there aren’t more people suffering from mental illnesses than in older generations. Yes, COVID-19 and an increase in isolation and virtual realities and a decrease in physical interactions has put mental health in the spotlight, but mental health challenges overall are not new.
The difference is, society is a lot more accepting (or working towards being more accepting) towards mental health than in previous generations where it was severely taboo to even mention such illnesses.
Let’s be honest, in the Black community, these issues were often pushed into the closet of family secrets, never to be heard of again. People still suffered. But with the lack of resources and an understanding community, these conditions were channeled through unhealthy habits, and negative, even traumatic, interactions with others, even within families.
We also cannot forget the more blatant systemic racism of the time of our older generations. Anti-blackness and white supremacy was (and still is) shoved down the throats of the older generations impacting our overall esteem for each other and how we viewed ourselves.
Whether Grandad or Grandma were physically present at bloody boycotts and protests turned violent or not, these events were and are continuously traumatic for the entire community, whether they know it or not.
This might not be your experience, but from what I’ve viewed within my own family, within other Black families, and within the Black community, is that strength is defined as how well you can survive.
Our cultural view on mental health is rooted in survival tactics. To protect ourselves against these traumatic events throughout our history, defense mechanisms were created and maintained.
Defense mechanisms are strategies made unconsciously by our body and brain to help us cope with the anxiety from unacceptable situations.
The most common types of defense mechanisms are:
Do you see any of these traits in your family members or people in your community?
These coping mechanisms were necessary (and still are necessary to an extent) for the Black community to progress as much as we have. The issue is that these mechanisms are based in surviving and not thriving. When do we start thriving as a community?
In my own opinion, it comes when we create an open and accepting community that addresses generational trauma, is not dismissive of very real mental illnesses and conditions, and makes checking on each other mentally and emotionally the norm.
Our culture is based in suppressing many of our wounds, little do we know, these wounds only grow and fester as we pass them on from generation to generation.
Lastly, Mental health is not only for people with mental illnesses and conditions!
On of the most common misconceptions is that if you don’t suffer from a severe mental illness or condition, then mental health resources aren’t for you. This couldn’t be more untrue!
Feeling stressed as life hurls obstacle after obstacle? Reach out for help! Not in tune with your emotions or not sure how to deal with loss of a loved one? There are resources for you!
Sometimes we just need someone to talk to or a support group. Other times reaching out to a professional for any issues you might have mentally and emotionally can reveal patterns, unrecognized trauma, and unhealthy habits or coping skills. Mental health is for everyone and you’re never too old or stuck in your ways to start.
Check out these mental health resources here: