In an exclusive interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning AmericaRegina King for the first time is talking about the loss of her 26-year-old son, Ian, who died by suicide in January 2022.


Regina reflects on the impact of his death and describes the series of emotions she’s had to navigate since losing him, which include guilt, anger, and in a way, acceptance.

"When a parent loses a child, you still wonder, 'What could I have done so that wouldn't have happened?'” she said.

She said that since his death, she’s had time to “just sit with” his choice. She described being “angry with God” at first and wondering why the “weight” of Ian’s mental health issues would be put on her son. But once she navigated through the anger and the pain, the latter of which is still very present for her, she says she reached some sort of acceptance – or at least understanding.

"I respect and understand that he didn't want to be here anymore. And that's a hard thing for other people to receive, because they did not live our experience, did not live Ian's journey,” she said. 

When she mentions “other people” at this point, part of me wonders whether she’s talking about people in her community, as in, the Black community. Only in recent years has mental health become a topic that is more widely discussed among Black people – and it’s not necessarily because we don’t want to talk about it, but there are a lot of systemic barriers put in place that make it more difficult than it may be for a white person.


According to the McLean Hospital, only 25% of Black people seek out mental health treatment. That number is 15% higher for white people. It speaks to the stigma that still exists surrounding mental health, but also the historical and cultural factors that get in the way. 

According to Christine M. Crawford, MD, MPH, who works with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), she says stigma surrounding mental health can be traced back to slavery. During that era, the belief was that Black enslaved people lacked the resources to be able to understand conditions like depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.


“From those historic misconceptions, we learned to ignore mental illness or call it other terms, like ‘stress’ and ‘being tired,’” she said.

She says that by using such simplified language to mischaracterize what, in many cases, is actually mental illness, there have been two major impacts. The first is the underestimating of effects and impact of mental health conditions. The second is the bolstering of the idea that any psychiatric disorder is a weakness.

Referring to her son’s depression, Regina said that people often assume it looks different than how it did on him, and that people typically assume it looks “heavy”. But that was not the case with her son – and it’s not the case for so many people who battle depression and other mental health issues.

"It's important to me to honor Ian, the totality of who he is — I speak about him in the present, because he is always with me. And the joy and happiness that he gave all of us," she continued.


To be clear, it’s really groundbreaking that Regina King, a Black female Oscar winner, is speaking so candidly about her son’s suicide. And I hate to treat this as if it’s some huge moment in history rather than a mother who is really grieving the loss of her son. But I do need to acknowledge that it is indeed both. And I do need to acknowledge the visibility she is giving to families who do not see themselves having to navigate this form of extremely complex and traumatic loss.

When my brother died of an overdose in 2020, which I wrote about here, everyone who told me they understood what I was going through was white. And while I was comforted to have people who could identify with parts of my experience, and vice versa, there was a cultural understanding that was missing. I don’t know how to explain it, but I could feel the absence of it and still do to this day. The conversations they were having at home with their families were not the conversations I was having at home with my family, mostly comprised of Guyanese immigrants, intent on keeping the cause of death somewhat secret. It’s just not something that’s widely talked about among us. Not drug use. Not mental health. And certainly not suicide. And the statistics really help to paint that picture. 


According to the University of Cincinnati, white men accounted for 70% of suicides in 2016. 30,658 cases of suicide were reported that year, which works out to be nearly 84 deaths a day. Among Black people (that’s men and women), 2,504 people died by suicide that year, which works out to be just under 7 deaths each day. 

There’s no clear reason that explains the vast discrepancy between these numbers, but people have certainly made their attempts at trying to explain the phenomenon. Dr. Rheeda Walker spoke to PEOPLE in 2022, shortly after Stephen tWitch Boss’ death, and reflected on what her research was telling her: 

There isn't a way to ethically test the causes of suicide, but in my research, I have observed that those who reported less positive cultural identity, less spirituality, and more stress associated with navigating our primarily white, mainstream society as a Black person are more vulnerable to thoughts of suicide.”

I think some of what she’s saying there highlights why the deaths of men like Ian and tWitch are such landmark losses. These were two men who had more resources than your average person, which, let’s be honest, can absolutely make navigating through a “primarily white, mainstream society” easier. Not easy, but easier.


When tWitch died two years ago, his death gave people an opening to have a lot of conversations that we simply weren’t having on a wide scale. I think it prompted people to check in on their friends, and also, to check in on themselves. To Regina’s point, depression doesn’t always look the way we expect, and being reminded that even the happy guy that danced up and down the Ellen show each day had dark days is a stark reminder to be mindful. 

There’s one point that Dr. Walker made that I just can’t get out of my head, though. She said that Black people are more vulnerable to thoughts of suicide, yet there’s still a huge discrepancy in the amount of suicides happening in the Black community than there are among white people. It begs the question of just how many Black men and women are walking around with thoughts of self-harm, unbeknownst to anyone else, afraid that if they say something they’ll appear weak. That is heartbreaking, knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of people out there needing help and too afraid to ask.

I admire Regina so much for speaking about the awful, life-altering death of her one and only son and child. As a mother, hell, as a human being, I simply cannot fathom having to navigate life after that kind of loss. I’ve written before about how exhausting it can be for Black women to have to be resilient all the time. But Regina just convinced me that resilience is not necessarily a choice, but a characteristic, a trait, an undying ancestral fire that lives in Black women, somewhere deep within, to carry us through life’s hardest moments. 

If you’re thinking about suicide or worried about someone you know, please reach out for support. In Canada, you can call or text 9-8-8 24/7/365 for a safe space to talk.


 Resources for Black youth in Canada

o   Black Youth Helpline – call 1-833-294-8650 from 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET

o   RiseUp – text RISE to 686868

Helpline numbers for readers in other countries

o   United States: 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline - call or text 988 -

o   Australia: Lifeline Australia – call 13 11 14 or text 0477 13 11 14 -

o   United Kingdom: Samaritans – call 116 123 -

o   A database of helplines in other countries can be found here:

Thank you Helen from CAMH for the resources.