Study Finds Suicide Attempts Among Black Children and Teens on the Rise

A newly released study reveals suicide attempts among Black children and teens have skyrocketed over the last two decades. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, shows suicide attempts have dropped among teens of all ethnic groups except for African Americans.

The study, “Trends of Suicidal Behaviors Among High School Students in the United States: 1991-2017,” found self-reported suicide attempts for Black teens rose 73 percent from 1991 to 2017. Self-reported suicide attempts for white teens during the same time period, dropped 7.5 percent.

“Kids are telling us something,” lead researcher, Michael A. Lindsey, PhD told CBS News. Lindsey is the executive director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University. “Particularly Black kids are saying that they’re engaging in higher rates of attempts and I think that is something that every citizen in America should be concerned about.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed suicide as the third-leading cause of death in 2017 among Black teens between the ages of 15 and 19.

Meanwhile, a 2018 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found suicide rates among Black children between 5-12 have surpassed those of white children of the same age. That report found during the period between 2001 and 2015, suicide rates among Black children between the ages of five and 12 were nearly double those of white children in the same age group.

Lindsey’s research found self-reported suicide attempts increased at an accelerated rate particularly among Black female teens.

In a statement released by the McSilver Institute, Lindsey said it was “urgent” that the reasons why suicide attempts among Black female adolescents is rising.

“We also need to understand why Black males are increasingly injured in suicide attempts,” Lindsey added. “As well, further research must be done into why traditional precursors to suicide attempts, such as thinking about it or making plans, are decreasing while actual attempts are going up.”

The researcher concluded, “It’s important that we identify the signs before young people attempt to end their lives.”

Lindsey told CBS News the reason that rates of plans are decreasing but attempts are increasing “could indicate that attempts tend to be more of an impulsive act, rather than a planned one.”

Fellow researcher Sean Joe, PhD, a professor of social development at Washington University in St Louis, told CBS News that the rise in suicides among Black youth can likely be traced back to a greater internalization of racial and structural issues coupled with a drop in coping mechanisms and lac of psychiatric investment.

“It has never been about their own capabilities, there is a broader context that limits them to be all that they can be live their best possible lives,” Joe said. “So these kind of racial based structural issues, as well as the psychiatric issues that they might be experiencing, and the lack of science and investment—until we have equity in our science—those are a confluence of factors.”

In April, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) launched an emergency task force to look into the pressing issue of suicide and mental healthcare access among Black youth. The task force works with experts in Washington, DC and nationally to raise awareness and identify possible legislation to address the growing issue.

The CBC Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health is chaired by Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), who said the rising rates of suicide among Black teens is what prompted her launch the task force. The task force supports scholars and practicing experts led by Lindsey at the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research.

“The rising rates of suicide among African American children and teenagers are both traffic and alarming,” Coleman said in a statement released by the institute. “It can be seen not only in the research of groups like the McSilver Institute, but in conversations with families across the country. This crisis is especially devastating because the victims of suicides are not only the promising young people we lose but also the families, friends, and communities left behind.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, 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.