Black Youth Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis in Black Communities
In spite of the idea that suicide is uncommon in Black communities, the suicide death rates of Black youth is “found to be increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group." From the disproportionate rates of death for Black coronavirus patients to the recent unrest over police brutality to even Kanye’s entanglement with the presidential race, Black teenagers have a lot on their minds. Regardless of the concerning data, mental health for African diasporic youth has not been a priority for mass media or policymakers. The statistics force a painful discussion for not only legislators and health care workers, but for Black families as well.
The Data on Black Youth Suicide Rates in Context
While the overall suicide death rate for Black youth is still less than the Caucasian rate, that gap is rapidly closing. And not because white children are committing suicide less, but because Black youth are killing themselves at an increased rate. Attempted suicide rates for Black youth have seen a whopping increase of 73% from 1991 to 2017 while other groups have seen a decrease. For example, suicide attempt rates fell by “7.5% for White adolescents, 11.4% for Latinx adolescents, 56% for Asian teens, and it fell about 4.8% for American Indian and Alaska Native teens.” Moreover, Black youth under 13 are twice as likely to die from suicide and Black males ages 5-11 are more likely to die of suicide than their white counterparts. Injuries reported as a result of attempted suicide also had an increase of 122% for Black boys in the same period. This crisis has culminated in suicide being the 3rd leading cause for Non-Hispanic Black males ages 1-19 and 5th for Black females of the same age as of 2017.
Why These Statistics Aren’t Shocking
Although the aforementioned facts may be a shock to some, researchers say that the high suicide rates stem from the same factors which make African Americans more prone to health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Factors that have a strong impact on the public health of Black communities include an increased risk of homelessness, a lack of affordable healthcare, young unplanned pregnancies, and an increased risk of violence in some neighborhoods. Consequently, Black children may face more “adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect,” and poverty which may lead them to the impulse suicides currently plaguing Black youth. Couple this with the harsh stigma surrounding mental health in Black communities especially for Black males, and it becomes clear that some children never stood a chance.
Mental Health Hurdles in the Black Community
Although Black adults are 20% more likely to have mental health issues such as Major Depression or Generalized Anxiety disorder, African-Americans are offered less mental health services than their white peers. “In 2018, 58.2 percent of Black and African American young adults 18-25 and 50.1 percent of adults 26-49 with serious mental illness did NOT receive treatment.” When Black people are offered therapy and can afford it through insurance, they still face a slew of challenges. These include being misdiagnosed with schizophrenia at a higher rate than white people who show the same symptoms, not receiving adequate care due to being incarcerated, and the lack of Black mental health care professionals who only make up 2% of the American Psychological Association’s members. Many African-Americans feel like Non-Black professionals may have a hard time understanding the special circumstances they face with day-to-day discrimination and shared traumatic experiences such as having to view police brutality. Research has shown that discrimination contributes to issues such as depression and anxiety in African-Americans making having a Black physician for some a requirement. Furthermore, as a result of a lack of mental health education and awareness in Black communities, there is a stigma surrounding receiving treatment. This stigma has led some to believe that mental illness is a “white” issue or that needing a therapist is a sign of weakness. One study showed that “63% of African Americans believe that a mental health condition is a personal sign of weakness.” The combination of the lack of quality mental health treatments for Black people and the negative perception of mental health treatments results in a population severely ignored in the realm of mental health care.
Healthcare providers as well as public health agencies must put more effort into increasing the diversity of their mental health care providers, increasing the availability of low cost or free treatments, and educational resources for Black communities. If they do not this upward trend of Black youth suicide will continue and Black adults will continue to be plagued by mental health issues without receiving adequate care. Considering the current climate of our society and the ongoing racial tensions it is crucial that African-American’s are cared for especially in terms of mental health.