Suicide is a real problem in the Black community. According to the Center for Disease Control, the suicide rate of Black children between ages 5 and 11 has doubled.
Suicide by hanging has nearly tripled among Black boys. Black youth are killing themselves far more frequently than their elders. In 2014, the risk for attempting suicide among African-Americans born after 1975 was nine times higher than older African-Americans. Suicide has become the third leading cause of death for Black youth between the ages of 15 and 24.
The CDC also reports that in 1980 the suicide rate for Whites, age 10 to 19 was 157 percent greater than that of Blacks. By 1995, there was only a 42 percent difference between White and Black suicide rates. Although Whites are still more likely to commit suicide, the suicide rate for all African-Americans doubled between 1980-1996. The death rate from suicide for African-American men is more than four times greater than that of African-American women.
It has been proposed that racial differences in suicide may be due to cultural rather than genetics. There has always been a stigma in the African-American community surrounding mental illness. Teen suicide talked about in the media seems to focus on the White population. If Blacks of any age commit suicide, the media seems to focus elsewhere. In the Black community, a suicide attempt or suicide may be labeled as a “White problem” or a sign of weakness rather than a mental illness.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention theorizes that the stigma about suicide has led to underreporting and undiagnosed mental disorders.
According to the CDC, the most common reason for a teen suicide attempt is conflict with a girlfriend or boyfriend, an argument with parents or school problems. Gay teens have a much higher rate of suicide because they feel conflicted or ashamed of their sexual identity. Some research links Black teens’ early exposure to violence and aggression as reasons for suicide. Poverty, low self-esteem and easy access to drugs and guns can also lead to a suicide attempt.
At some point, before age 17, 4 percent of Black teens and 7 percent of Black female teens will attempt suicide. Males are more successful at a suicide attempt. Women and girls tend to use less effective methods to commit suicide are more likely to be found alive.
Increasing the number of Black healthcare professionals and social workers could help the Black community feel more comfortable about accepting mental health treatment. Cultural sensitivity training could also increase trust in the system.
If you are feeling depressed or suicidal, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 provides access to free and confidential telephonic services, 24/7. These services provide the opportunity to begin treatment for a real Black problem.
Marcia Jackson is a retired RN and educator living in the Baltimore area.