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An Increase in Suicide Rates Among Black Youth Calls for Action


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CW: This article discusses suicide, suicide attempts and mental health

A recent study that tracks unhealthy behaviors in youth found an increase in suicide rates among Black youth.

The survey asks students whether they have seriously thought about committing suicide, if they have made plans to commit suicide, number of suicide attempts and injury or overdose from attempts within a 12 month period.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention created the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to monitor unhealthy behaviors among youth in the United States. The survey is conducted every two years around the country.

Researchers and care professionals say that more needs to be done in order to prevent harm and lower suicide rates in Black youth.

According to Pediatrics, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth between 12 and 18 years old. Researchers Michael A. Lindsey, Arielle H. Sheftall, Yunyu Xiao and Sean Joe found  that race and ethnicity are factors in suicide attempts and deaths.

A general study of about 198,540 students showed that boys had higher suicide rates than girls, with the average age being 16 years old. The male-to-female suicide rate ratio can range from 4-to-1 to 8-to-1.

Black boys between the age of five to 11 years old have an increase in suicide deaths, this rate was found to be two times higher than that of white boys. 

Suicide attempts have been increasing within Black youth leading to suicide deaths, and studies show an increase in injuries from attempts in black boys. 

Researchers are alarmed because injury refers to the use of lethal methods of suicide attempts. Lethal suicide methods refer to hanging or suffocation which has increased from 20 percent to 60 percent, while rates of suicide by firearms has decreased from 60 percent to 22 percent. 

However, an article by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center states that access to guns among Black youth should be reduced, due to a risk of suicide.

The center believes that suicide rates among black adolescents are increasing because there is a lack of support for mental illness within that community.

Dr. Sean Joe, associate dean for faculty and research of the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, said in the article that black youth do not want to be judged as weak and refuse to acknowledge mental illness symptoms. 

"Black adolescents view mental health treatment with skepticism because of the mistrust of providers causing them to prefer to address mental health symptoms with family and peer network," Joe stated in the article.

Joe explained that there were many stressors like racial discrimination, childhood abuse, neglect and poverty that lead to increase in self-harm behavior.

Care professionals and researchers stress the importance of understanding suicide in order to prevent it. 

According to Joe, mental health can significantly increase suicide risk among black youth and adults.

"Although depression must be addressed, the strongest mental health predictor of attempted suicide in this population is anxiety," Joe said. "Prevention efforts should help enhance the existing psychological resources that help to buffer Black people against suicide risk, and also help protect them from sources of vulnerability."

Joe encourages black youth to socially connect with organizations and groups like school programs or religious affiliation.

The Counseling Center at American University provides various resources to help students with issues they may be having.

Staff clinician and adjunct psychology professor Daniel Birichi said, that the increase in suicide attempts and deaths of African American youth is an issue that researchers are always trying to investigate.

"Risk for suicide involves a number of factors both related to the person in terms of previous mental health history, trauma, social support, and access to means but also situational," Birichi said in an email to The Blackprint. "However, protective factors that have been investigated include early intervention, family and social support, resilience and spirituality."

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