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Suicide Increasing Among African American Teens

African American teen boy looking sadly through a window  

In general, teen suicide rates and youth suicide rates are increasing. In 2017, suicide was the 10th most common cause of death among Americans from all age groups. Among young people aged 15 to 24, it was the second-leading cause of death according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A separate study, which was published in the Pediatrics journal, indicated both African-American boys and girls are more likely than their peers in other ethnic and racial groups to report attempted suicide. These startling African American suicide rates are leading mental health professionals and researchers to find out the cause of such trends and work on ways to reverse them.

Along with the trends among both African-American boys and girls, researchers say teen girl suicide is on the rise in particular. Males were at one point five times more likely to commit suicide. Now they’re only about three times as likely as females. The rates of suicide increase provide further evidence of the importance of focusing on mental health issues in teens.

Suicides Among African-American Females Closing the Gender Gap

According to researchers at Ball State University, African-American suicides from teen females went up 182% from 2001 to 2017. The rate of male suicide went up by 60% during that time period. From that period between 2001 and 2017, there were 1,375 black male teen suicides across the United States. There were 3,777 black female teen suicides.

Additionally, suicidal attempts by a teenager have increased significantly as well. There were a reported 94,760 attempted suicides by African-American female adolescents from 2001 to 2017. There were also 68,528 attempts made by males. Teens with guns were a major problem according to the statistics because for males, 52% of all suicides involved a firearm. As for attempted teen girl suicide, 56% of suicides involved hanging or suffocation.

Goals to Reduce Stigma and Increase Access to Mental Health Services

There are challenges to reducing the suicide rates among teens and in particular, African-American teens. One of the biggest is the mental health stigma in the black community that often exists. According to a blogger for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, often in the black community, rather than seeking mental health services, there is a tendency to isolate and try to solve problems independently or self-medicate. Forty-three percent of Americans receive treatment for mental illness each year, while only 30% of African-American adults with a mental illness receive treatment every year.

As well as the challenge of overcoming the stigma of mental illness, there are other barriers to receiving help as well. For example, African-Americans are more likely to experience prejudice and discrimination in the health care system, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. There are also socio-economic factors that come into play. For example, 11% of African-Americans didn’t have any type of health insurance. All of these factors will likely need to play a role in helping reduce the mental health stigma in the black community and breaking down barriers to care and treatment.

Teen Suicide Prevention

Teen suicide warning signs and signs of depression in teens may include:

  • Writing or frequently talking about suicide or death
  • Social withdrawal
  • Mood swings
  • Self-medicating with alcohol or other substances
  • Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors
  • Giving away belongings
  • Problems sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Self-harm

For parents, loved ones and even educators, learning how to help a teenager with suicidal thoughts often rely on removing the stigma that prevents young people from asking for help before a situation reaches a crisis point. It’s also important to help teens feel that they are valuable, loved and cared for. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK or text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

If your teen is struggling with depression and a co-occurring substance use disorder Next Generation Village can help. We provide evidence-based addiction treatment specifically for teens. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs that can help your teen find recovery from addiction.

Sources:

Sutherland, Brooks. “Study: African-American teen suicides skyrocketing.” Toledo Blade, September 21, 2019. Accessed October 20, 2019.

Baoku, Hafeez. “Challenging Mental Health Stigma in the Black Community.” National Alliance on Mental Health, July 27, 2018. Accessed October 20, 2019.

Santhanam, Laura. “Youth suicide rates are on the rise in the U.S.” PBS, October 18, 2019. Accessed October 20, 2019.

Curtin, Sally C. M.A.; Heron, Melonie, Ph.D. “Death Rates Due to Suicide and Homicide Among Persons Aged 10-24: United States, 2000-2017.” NCHS Data Brief, October 2019. Accessed October 20, 2019.

Lindsey, Michael A.; et. al. “Trends of Suicidal Behaviors Among High School Students in the United States: 1991-2017.” Pediatrics, October 2019. Accessed October 20, 2019.

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