Congressional Black Caucus Launches Task Force on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) launched an emergency task force on Tuesday, April 30 dedicated to the growing issue of suicide and mental healthcare access among Black youth. The CBC Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health is chaired by Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) and includes 11 other members of Congress.

The task force will work with experts in Washington, DC and around the county to raise awareness and identify possible legislation that can be introduced to address the issue. The task force also aims to empower a group of scholars and practicing experts led by Dr. Michael Lindsey and the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University who will produce a report by the end of the year.

A 2018 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found the suicide rates among Black children between the ages of five and 12 have surpassed those of white children of the same age. Between 2001 and 2015, suicide rates among Black youth were about 42 percent lower than white youths aged 5-17. However, the report found that the number of suicides involving Black children aged five to 12 were nearly double those involving white children.

The same report found that more than a third of suicides at the elementary school level involved Black children, the CBC said in its statement. “Our findings provide further evidence of a significant age-related racial disparity in childhood suicide rates and rebut the long-held perception that suicide rates are uniformly higher in whites than Blacks in the United States,” said Dr. Jeff Bridge, director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the report’s lead author.

Members of Congress are also working outside of the task force to improve health care among minorities. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), who is part of the CBC’s task force, announced last week that she was leading a bipartisan, bicameral coalition to introduce a resolution to promote minority health awareness and to focus on the discrepancies in health care faced by minorities in the US.

“As we work to improve health care across the country, we cannot ignore the specific needs communities of color have. It is vital for us to understand that minority communities oftentimes feel the brunt of both communicable and non-communicable diseases because of insufficient access to health care. This can have disastrous consequences on our collective public health,” Johnson said in a statement.

She continued, “By acknowledging these significant disparities, we can counteract the negative trends that adversely affect health care among minorities and ensure adequate resources are available for all.” The death of a Black teen by suicide recently made headlines around the country. Nigel Shelby, 15, died on April 18 in Huntsville, Alabama, after being the target of homophobic bullying. A police officer was put on administrative leave after making homophobic comments about the teen on Facebook. Shelby’s mother, Camika Shelby, told NBC News that she hoped her son’s death would shine a light on the harmful effects of bullying and promote tolerance.

“I definitely want to bring awareness to the bullying because when kids are struggling with their own identity, if they’re going through stuff already and you have other kids who are making them feel bad about themselves, it has an even bigger impact than if they weren’t struggling with those things,” she said.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.