Suicide is a nationwide problem and the second leading cause of death among youth ages 12-18 — and teenage suicide rates are rising. However, a research study reveals that suicide rates differ by race and ethnic groups among adolescents. A particularly alarming rise among African American teens is a cause for concern.
The study, published in Pediatrics, took place between 1991 and 2017 and utilized a Youth Risk Behavior survey that’s administered throughout the country by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Almost 200,000 students participated and answered a set of questions around suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Researchers found that while there was a general decline in suicidal ideation and attempts among the youth at large, there was a significant increase for black adolescent boys and girls.
Researchers cite the lack of mental health treatment and an increase in substance abuse as potential factors that may be contributing to the increased numbers. Social factors also played a role, like racial discrimination, poverty, and abuse.
“There is definitely more than one factor contributing to the increase in suicide rates among African American youth, specifically young males,” Esther Saggurthi, LCPC, NCC, MA (PCP), MA and Primary Clinician at Maryland House Detox concurs, telling Parentology. “Jobs are harder to come by, and schools are more expensive; thus, ways and means to sustain life often fall short.” Saggurthi explains that this lack of hope can lead to depression, a leading cause of suicide.
The increase in suicidal ideation and attempts by black males is even more concerning because males have a higher success rate at suicide attempts.
“As plans of suicidal ideation go, women tend to have a more passive plan. Men are more likely to have suicidal plan completion than women, usually on their first attempt,” Saggurthi says. Male attempts are usually much more aggressive and therefore their chance of surviving an attempt is much less.
While there is an increased nationwide emphasis on mental health, the message may be missing many African American communities. “The message of mental health is one that is still closeted. Stigma still largely surrounds it, and to break that, dissemination of open information is key,” Saggurthi says. She recommends getting information about mental health out in the community through churches, gyms, corner stores, laundromats, restaurants, and workplaces. “The more we are willing to talk about it in open forums, the less scary it will be, and the less stigma will be attached to it,” Saggurthi tells Parentology.
It’s important that parents, friends and community members pay attention and get involved if they see someone struggling. Warning signs can include an increase in violent behavior or withdrawal from regular activities. Reaching out to that child or offering them a resource for help could make the difference. Meeting with a mental health professional is the best option for treatment, however, mental health resources are often limited in some African American communities.
Saggurthi recommends “telehealth” alternatives, where kids can use Facetime or Skype to interact with a professional and get the help they need.