Why Are More Black Kids Suicidal? A Search For Answers.

Recent reports from the New York Times show us that people of different races do not have the same risk factors for self-harm. In the past 20 years, self-reported suicide attempts rose nearly 80 percent among black adolescents. In this article, we explore a young black teenager’s intense mental health journey. 

“Joe was 17 when he decided that life wasn’t worth living.”

Tired of the violence he was exposed to growing up in his Boston neighborhood, Joe continuously dealt with thoughts of committing suicide. After his brother was shot in the leg and Joe was repeatedly bullied,  he didn’t see many options left for himself. Opening up to his father did not lead to a lot of progress, as Joe’s father discouraged him from seeing a therapist and created more stigma around the issues that Joe was facing. A mental health crisis has been brewing for decades in the Black community, and similar to Joe’s situation, little has been spoken publicly to spread awareness. 

Denise, a high- school senior in Cleveland, Ohio, reported having similar feelings. After opening up to her mother, she was told that she didn’t have any real problems because she was just a kid. According to the New York Times, suicide ideation was common in ⅔ of the students in her high school. “The first three nights I spent in the hospital, all I could do is cry,” said Denise, who received her first prescription for psychiatric medication while she was there. “I just felt relieved that somebody could actually understand what I’m going through. It felt good to let it all out after holding it in for so long.”

Suicide and mental illness are often thought of as a “white phenomenon.” A 2018 study found that while the suicide rate of Black children 5 to 12 was low, it was nearly twice that of white children in the same age group. Despite these disparities, little research has actually been done to examine the racial and ethnic differences in suicide ideation. According to Arielle Sheftall, a principal investigator at the Center for National Suicide Prevention, these issues have to be talked about. Racism exists. Culture and discrimination exist. Black youth face discrimination every day, and there needs to be awareness surrounding this. 

By using 360-degree thinking and cultural competency, decision-makers, teachers, and every individual can implement more compassion and awareness into their day-to-day lives.  Simple actions like being more transparent, creating a safe space for a discussion, and implementing new ways to be inclusive to all are extremely helpful. Both leaders and educators can create programs meant to be inclusive and address the racial inequalities that exist. Leaders also need to be dedicated to making sure their work environments are constantly combatting racial selection in any way.  For example, a report presented to Congress in 2019, showed gaps in research and policy have resulted in more funding to studies related to Black youth suicide, including a program to teach middle schoolers about better mental health and suicide prevention. Becoming aware of how these issues affect our communities, both inside and outside our own homes and workplaces is one of the most crucial steps for creating change.