A new study released on Monday shows stark and devastating differences between suicide attempts for Black youth versus white youth.
According to the report called “Trends of Suicidal Behaviors Among High School Students in the United States: 1991-2017”, suicide attempts among Black teens and children are increasing at disturbing rates. Self-reported suicide attempts for Black adolescents had a 73% rise between 1991 and 2017. Meanwhile, among white teens, self-reported suicide attempts actually fell by 7.5% over the same time period. The study is based on data from nearly 200,000 high school students from the nationally representative Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Currently, suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens across the U.S., according to CBS News. Unfortunately, while suicide attempts over the past two decades have generally decreased for teens across ethnic groups, Black kids are the only group that hasn’t seen a drop.
“Kids are telling us something,” said Michael A. Lindsey, Ph.D., lead researcher on the report and executive director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University. “Particularly Black kids are saying that they’re engaging in higher rates of attempts and I think that is something that every citizen in America should be concerned about.”
One mother, Kathy Williams, tragically described her son’s suicide. She says she struggled to comprehend it, explaining that he was an honor roll student who played basketball, the saxophone and he sang in the church choir. “I did not know that Torian was probably depressed or even thinking about taking his life,” Williams said. “None of us knew it. None of his friends. He just had all of these wonderful things going on in his life.”
Another researcher on the study, Sean Joe, Ph.D., explained that the rise in suicides among Black youth can most likely be attributed to bigger internalization of racial and structural issues, as well as a decline in coping mechanisms and little psychiatric investment. The study further acknowledged the possible role of “adverse childhood experiences” such as neglect and abuse, along with poverty, which disproportionately affects Black kids.
“It has never been about their own capabilities, there is a broader context that limits them to be all that they can be and live their best possible lives,” explained Joe, who is a professor of social development at Washington University in St. Louis. “So these kind of racial based structural issues, as well as the psychiatric issues that they might be experiencing, and the lack of science and investment — until we have equity in our science — those are a confluence of factors.”
Social media is also a factor, which can play a major negative role for Black girls, who are attempting suicide at a more accelerated rate than Black boys.
“Research shows that girls exhibit morefrom and ,” Lindsey said, which can be connected to heightened feelings of depression and hopelessness in girls. He referenced research showing that in 2007, nearly 36% of girls reported these feelings, which increased to over 41% by 2017. Boys didn’t show such an increase.
Both Lindsey and Joe agreed that in addition to more research around suicide prevention and risk factors for Black youth, there also needs to be more access to mental health care in Black communities, especially in the school setting. Lindsey pushed that schools specifically need counselors who are prepared to address the interpersonal challenges Black youth face.
For more info on mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be contacted Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can also be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if you or someone you know is in emotional distress or in a suicide crisis.