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Rising Suicide Rates in Black Youth

Photo by NATASHA LOIS from Pexels

With the indefinite danger from a deadly lung virus and its impact on personal income and health – alongside the recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police – one thing is clear: black youth suicide rates are rising far faster than whites, and the effects of police brutality and the coronavirus are deepening trauma.

Americans were already struggling with historic levels of anxiety and depression when the virus claimed its first victims, and now, with the recent police killings, those levels are shooting higher than any other racial or ethnic group, with a 41 percent increase from May 21 to June 2 (data from the Census Bureau).

These findings – originally intended to study the effects of the coronavirus – indicate that with the recent unrest and the disproportionate emotional and mental toll that black and brown communities are facing, symptoms are increasing much faster than in previous years. A week after the video of George Floyd’s death became public, the percentage roughly climbed to 1.4 million more people clinically showing signs of increased anxiety and depression, which ultimately led to suicidal death.

Suicide has become a leading cause of death in the U.S. among all age groups, particularly in youth and young adults. It is the second leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds. Parents, teachers, and professionals must be able to talk about it and understand the risks for vulnerable children of any race. Experts say that black youth at risk may be harder to identify than non-black youth.

One study referred to college-age racial/ethnic minority people, including African Americans, as ‘hidden ideators’ who are less likely than other youth to disclose thoughts of suicide. Because suicide is occurring at shockingly young ages, comprehensive efforts are needed to address this public health problem.

With this new data that comes from the emergency weekly survey of U.S. households launched by the Census Bureau, new ways to find help and identify triggers are emerging. According to Rheeda Walker, a psychologist at the University of Houston, when there are cultural differences, therapists must be willing to “think outside of the box” to fully evaluate the risk for suicide. For example, the racism that black Americans encounter increases stress for many. Thus, their stressors and mental health issues will need different solutions and approaches than treatments that work for white people.

The disproportionate effects of the pandemic and the racial unrest on black and brown Americans highlight the need for improving mental health support for these communities. With current events, we need to look beyond just patching up the wounds and trauma that have been present for years. To start healing, we need to address the structural and systemic racism that has sparked everything we are seeing today.


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