The Shocking Rate of Suicide Among Black Teens is Terrifying
The idea of “pushing through” and putting on a brave face often deters people from speaking up when they need help.
Teen suicide rates among black youth are rapidly increasing. In 2018, data revealed that black youth between 5–11 were the most at risk. From 2008 to 2012, the suicide rate increased in black children from 1.36 to 2.54 per million. In the past 20 years, studies have demonstrated a steady increase in suicide rates among black children and a steady decrease in suicide among white children.
A 2015 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that black high school-age boys are more likely to have attempted suicide during their high school years than their white peers.
Suicide is a major issue that cannot be ignored, it has become a leading cause of death in the United States. It is the second cause of death among 10 to 34-year-olds. Serious dialogue is necessary to comba mental health issues faced by young black people in order to prevent the last resort, which is suicide.
I conducted a social media poll recently for black men and women between the age of 18 to 35. I asked them if they had ever contemplated suicide, I also asked them if they know of anyone within the black community who has attempted to or taken their own life. I was shocked by the results. 75 percent of 200 participants admitted to having suicidal thoughts in the past. 13 percent admitted to attempting suicide in the past and 78 percent admitted to knowing someone who has attempted to or taken their own life. The poll was designed to focus on members of the black community only.
Despite the fact that only 200 people took part, these statistics are somewhat shocking. I had private conversations with 10 of the participants and they explained their reasoning for attempting suicide. One participant stated that she struggled to overcome the shock of her parent's divorce after finding out her father had multiple children outside the marriage. She said she found it difficult to voice her thoughts and feelings relating to the issue because her parents would often shut her down when she tried to talk. The young lady also said she was afraid to sign up for therapy because of the stigma attached to mental health issues within the black community.
Growing up I experienced severe depression and anxiety as a result of racial and sexual abuse. Speaking to my parents about feelings wasn’t an option because there was this unspoken rule that we must soldier on and get on with it as black people. Talking about our feelings and admitting that we were struggling mentally just wasn’t allowed. I attempted suicide once, I took pills and my parents were shocked and angered by what I did. Nothing changed, they still continued to remain cold and distant when it came to discussing how I felt.
During my college years, two of my African friends took their own lives. Their deaths shook me to the core. Upon digging deeper into the reasons why they did it, they both struggled with racial abuse and their parents, both Nigerian placed unreasonable pressure on them to succeed in law and medicine. Again, their parents were distant and cold. I understand though because as black people we are often desensitized to pain. We pick ourselves up, we push through, we keep on going, we put on a brave face.
The idea of “pushing through” and putting on a brave face often deters people from speaking up when they need help. I can only speak from my experience as a black woman, sometimes I find it difficult to explain how I feel, especially when I am feeling down, really down. Depression is real and often the deep stigma attached to the word depression can leave you feeling lost when fighting through your darkest days.
How can we fight this stigma to provide a safe space for black people to voice their thoughts and feelings?
There are lots of resources available online and offline, however, awareness is a major issue. Many young people are completely unaware of the resources available to them. I spoke to a group of young people in the Washington DC area and they told me that they had no idea where to turn when they are feeling down. They often speak to their online friends instead of speaking to a professional who might be able to provide them with the support and practical help that they need.
Dr Rhonda Dr. Rhonda C. Boyd is an Associate Professor in Psychiatry in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. She talks about her experience working with black teenagers with the National Institude of Mental Health. She said:
“In my particular clinical practice, the patients that I see are typically Black teenagers and mostly are girls, and I’ve noticed over the years of seeing these yougth that the severity of their depression, suicidal ideation is becoming a main focus of the work that I do in treating them…They need to be treated, but we still need to figure out how to get them the best empirically supported treatment, and that’s where these disparities and thirst in knowledge comes in”
Throughout this panel discussion they discussed the urgent need for extensive information, literature and conversation pertaining to suicide and depressive moods. They discussed the lack of knowledge that needs to be addressed in order to provide families and friends of depressed black youth with the necessary tools to identify when intervention is needed.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics by the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that between 1991 and 2017, there was a 73 percent increase in suicide attempts among Black Youth.
These statistics highlight the urgency assoicated with tackling the mental health issues within the black community, particularly black youth. Historically, Black Youth are generally disconnected from the idea of treatment for the mental struggles. Black youths with mental health issues are often detached from the school system or from family and friends. Making it increasingly difficult to identify issues that they might be facing.
Mental illness is a major problem within the black community, the willingness to seek appropriate treatment is lacking amongst people of color. Not just Black people, but Asian, Native American and Hispanics also neglect adequate treatment for mental health issues.
Racial abuse, police brutality, Covid-19 and the ongoing trauma that black people face is cause for alarm. Black youths need more support and guidance to treat immediate mental health concerns and to prevent eventual suicide.
What are the solutions?
Here are we specifically talking about the black community, we need to find effective solutions to reduce the risk of suicide in black youths and adults. How can we work towards removing the stigma associated with mental health issues within the black community?
Awareness is key but it is only one piece of an extremely vast puzzle of major issues. How can we continue to raise mental health awareness and raise the collective consciousness relating to mental health issues within the black community?
1.Share information relating to mental wellness with friends, family and peers
2. Parents actively seek advice and support and share their knowledge with their children
3. Don’t ignore when family members or friends show signs of mental illness -speak to a professional
4. Sign up with websites like Black Female Therapists or Black Male Therapists to find professionals in your area
5. Create mental wellness groups in your area, get professionals involved
6. Educate yourself as much as possible by seeking information and advice from professionals
7. Stay connected to your child's teachers and school counselor, ask as many questions as possible
8. Sign up for family and individual therapy
9. Don’t suffer in silence, surround yourself with like-minded families
Here are some helpful resources:
Suicide Prevention Line: 1 800 273 TALK
A database of therapists for people of color