Suicide is the Second-Leading Cause of Death for Black Youth And is Rising Faster Than Any Other Racial and Ethnic group, New Study Shows

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Black youth, and is increasing at a faster pace than any other racial and ethnic group, according to a new congressional report.

The report titled Ring the Alarm: The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America, was conducted by a task force of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, Executive Director of the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research. The caucus launched the task force back in April to study the issue of mental health and suicide among Black youth.

What the study found

  • The report found that among Black youth between the ages 10 of 19, suicide is the second-leading cause of death. In 2017, 3,000 Black youths in this age group died by suicide, according to the study. The study also notes that “the suicide death rate among Black youth has been found to be increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group.”

  • Self-reported suicide attempts for Black female and male youths have increased by 25 percent over the past 25 years, the report states. Self-injury attempts for adolescent Black boys rose 122 percent during that same time period.

  • The suicide rate has increased over the past decade. The death rate for Black youth has increased from 2.55 per 100,000 in 2007 to 4.82 per 100,000 in 2017, the study reported.

  • Young Black males between the ages of 5 and 11 are two times more likely to die by suicide when compared to their white peers, according to the report.

  • The study states that traumatic experiences Black youth endure can have an impact on suicidal behavior. Because Black youth have diverse experiences and trauma is disproportionately experienced in Black communities when compared to other communities, trauma can be more severe, the report states. Some of these factors of trauma include exposure to racism, discrimination, neighborhood violence, economic insecurity, abuse, grief and other adverse childhood experiences.

  • Black youth “who reported a history of trauma and adversity (e.g., physical abuse) were five times more likely to attempt suicide than those adolescents without a history,” the report states.

What they’re saying

Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), who chaired the task force, said she pushed to study the rise of suicide in Black youth, calling it “an emerging crisis.”

“What the data shows us about the increases in suicide and mental health issues requires a focused and deliberate assessment of what’s at play so that we can offer real solutions. I’m proud that our task force and working group have produced a roadmap for Congress to follow in order to save lives in the immediate term and turn this crisis around,” said Watson Coleman in a statement.

Dr. Lindsey, who led the task force in the study, said in a statement that as the U.S. continues to deal with rising suicide rates, Black youth have been overlooked.

“The historical suicide rate gap between Black and White youth is narrowing by some measures; and among the youngest, Black children actually have the highest rates of suicide,” Dr. Lindsey wrote, “With this report, we are ringing the alarm on a growing mental health crisis among Black youth and calling attention to the need for more research funding; mental health professionals in schools; and local, state and federal attention."

The executive director of the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research published his own study titled "Trends of Suicidal Behaviors Among High School Students in the United States: 1991-2017," in the journal Pediatrics in October. The study found that self-reported suicide attempts for Black youth rose 73 percent from 1991 to 2017, while self-reported suicide for white adolescents dropped by 7.5 percent during that same time period.

"Kids are telling us something," Lindsey previously told CBS. "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."

What can be done

Alongside the report, Congresswoman Watson Coleman announced pending legislation that will address youth mental health in communities of color. The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act of 2019 will:

  • Increase research relating to mental health among Black youth through the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Mental Health, particularly by minority researchers.

  • Promote training to students, parents, teachers and school staff on how to identify and screen for signs of trauma, risk of suicide and mental health disorders.

  • Increase funding for the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) to study mental health disparities in ethnic and racial groups.

  • Prohibit federal funds from being used for conversion therapy and stop SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) grants from being used for that purpose.

“Suicide and mental health has long been an unspoken stigma in the African American community, but at a time when our children are facing a suicide rate that is far outpacing their peers, it is our moral duty to bring this difficult issue to light and ensure our children receive the support they desperately need,” Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), a member of the Black Congressional Caucus, said in a statement.“Mental health is certainly not exempt from the devastating racial health disparities we see across our entire healthcare system.


About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.