The suicide rate among Black youth had been rising faster than other groups for years, before Black communities disproportionately were affected by COVID-19, and news of police violence increased risk that kids may be living in fear.
The suicide rate among Black youth had been rising faster than other groups for years before Black communities disproportionately were affected by COVID-19, and news of police violence increased awareness that youth of color may be living in fear.
Add the social isolation from COVID-19 restrictions, and mental health professionals are raising the alarm about suicide as well as the wider risks of mental health trauma for Black kids.
Several studies in recent years have pointed to the increased rate of suicide among Black youth. In December, the Congressional Black Caucus released a report that highlighted that the suicide rate among Black youth has been increasing faster than any other ethnic group — from 2.55 per 1,000 in 2007 to 4.82 in 2017.
“There has been a growing suicide crisis among children of color for years, and the worry is now that the chronic stress of the last year may be disproportionally impacting these kids,” said Jennifer F. Le, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist with Norton Children’s Behavioral & Mental Health, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Suicide is clearly a terrible outcome, and there are likely many more Black youth who are experiencing growing mental health concerns while continuing to be faced with significant barriers to receiving treatment.”
Is it an emergency?
If your instincts tell you someone is approaching a suicidal crisis, call 911 immediately or get to the closest emergency room.
Preventing suicide among Black youth
A recent study found half of caregivers were unaware their child had suicidal thoughts and more than three quarters were unaware of adolescents’ recurring thoughts of death. Similar percentages showed adolescents denying parental reports of suicidal thoughts and thoughts of death.
Parents of Black children were more likely than other demographic groups to be unaware of thoughts of death.
Pediatricians can be one line of defense as they can screen for depression. Given the level to which kids are likely to deny their dark thoughts to parents or clinicians in the study, consider that peers and other trusted adults may be aware of dangerous thoughts or plans.
Teachers, clergy and adult relatives can be encouraged to come forward with any concerns.
While research into the causes and possible prevention of suicide in Black youth has yet to provide many answers, there are steps to take.
- Take advantage of mental health services. Pediatricians can perform mental health and depression screenings and refer to behavioral and mental health specialists if necessary. In addition, the Metro United Way in partnership with the Center for Women and Families operates a “211” phone line to connect people with local resources to help them face challenges. With more than 100 languages and 24/7 staffing, the 211 line can be accessed from anywhere in the country.
- Ask about the adolescent’s feelings and about thoughts of suicide. It’s a myth that asking about suicide increases the risk.
- Take any expressions of suicide seriously and seek care at the nearest emergency department for any safety concerns.
- Reduce access to guns and medications, including over-the-counter drugs, and other means of suicide.