Data Shows Not Enough Attention Paid to Suicide in Black Children

In the last 10 years, suicides among Black children aged 5–11 have doubled, while the rate for white children of the same age has declined. The National CARES Mentoring Movement, a mentorship organization for Black children, and The Association for Black Psychologists released a report that outlines this crisis and most physicians lack of awareness surrounding it. The release also brings to light how lack of culturally competent mental healthcare for Black children contributes to a society that ignores Black children’s suffering.

A Lack of Knowledge

From 2001 to 2017, the rate of suicides for adolescent Black boys increased by 60%. For adolescent Black girls, it increased by 182%.

“This disproportionate increase in Black youth death by suicide constitutes a national public health crisis, but explanations remain speculative, research is limited, and interventions are culturally and contextually deficient,” the report says.

National CARES recently partnered with Sermo, a platform that connects with physicians, to survey doctors about suicide in Black children.

Among the findings:

  • 73% of polled doctors believe that Black child suicide should be getting more attention
  • 76% of polled doctors are interested in learning more about culturally relevant approaches to mental health and wellness
  • 68% of polled doctors do not feel adequately equipped to talk about Black child suicide.

Racial Discrepancies

The problem of Black youth being at such a high risk for suicide exists within a historic, socio-economic, socio-political and socio-ecological context. Previous studies National CARES cited included factors like trauma passed down through generations, patterns of violence against Black communities, patterns of violence within communities, distress related to racism and violence, and bullying as contributing to the public health issue.

A 2015 study that National CARES cites hypothesizes about why Black youth are more likely to die by suicide.

Black children:

  • May experience disproportionate exposure to violence and traumatic stress
  • Are more likely to be aggressively disciplined at school
  • Are more likely to experience early puberty which can increase the risk of depression, feelings of aggression and thoughts of suicide
  • Are less likely to seek help for depression and suicidal intentions

It’s unclear whether these factors are directly related to increasing suicide rates of Black children, but they offer possible explanations as to why there are such discrepancies between suicide rates of Black and white youth.

A Lack of Attention

“Although there is some recognition that Black youth experience psychological and emotional stressors differently than White youth, few studies examine the unique pathways to suicidal behavior for Black youth and adolescents,” the report says.

There are very few studies on the different factors that lead Black versus white youth to suicide attempts. Additionally, as evidenced by the fact that 68% of doctors feel ill-equipped to talk about Black youth suicide, the problem is not getting enough attention in the medical community.

Many Black individuals report distrusting the healthcare system. This distrust has been linked to cultural reactions to racist medical practices throughout history — such as eugenics, the practice of controlling reproduction of certain groups of people in order to create a “strong” human race (which meant white Anglo-Saxon Protestant during the 1800s movement), and invasive medical testing on Black people to advance medical knowledge in fields such as gynecology.

In mental healthcare specifically, white people are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than Black and Hispanic people, Black adults are more than 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than white adults, according to the Office of Minority Health.

A 2014 study found that after entering care, minority patients were less likely that white patients to receive the best available treatments for depression and anxiety. According the American Psychological Association (APA), in 2015, 86% of psychologists in the U.S. field were white. Five percent were Asian, 5% were Hispanic 4% were Black and 1% were multiracial or from other ethnic groups.

Cultural competence is important in all dimensions of healthcare. People are more likely to trust those who can empathize with and not minimize their struggles.

“Many Black children and youth may avoid treatment due to cultural mistrust and fear that they will not be understood by non-Black providers or that the non-Black provider can deal with their realities,” National CARES’s report says.

A Way Forward

National CARES’s report offers ways to address suicide in Black children and work toward remedying the crisis. Some of these research-backed suggestions include better healthcare professional training, a dedication to heartfelt listening and directly addressing the topic of suicide with Black children and increasing the Black workforce.

Additionally, it recommends working to conduct more research and gain further knowledge into the nature of suicide — especially for Black youth.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recently announced a goal to focus more on elements in diversity in its research.

The way forward is multi-faceted, the report suggests.

“Framing participation in mental health services as a form of wellness or healing may be needed to address the stigma of mental health and mental health treatment in general as well as specifically in the Black community,” it says. “Building upon the village concept—it takes a village to raise a child—and increased awareness of promoting community healing, the stigma may also be addressed by providing mental health awareness trainings at churches, parks and recreation facilities, community centers, hair salons, and barber shops.”


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