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Black Youth Mental Health and Its Impact on Suicide in the US

Suicide rates increased by 36% in the United States from 2000 to 2021. In 2020, suicide was the second cause of death among people aged 10 to 14 and the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. An issue that has gone largely unexplored until recently, however, is the alarming rise of suicide rates among Black youth and the general state of mental health in this group.

If you are in crisis or know someone who is, please call or share the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 988.

Black youth mental health by the numbers

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate among Black people between the ages of 10 to 24 rose by 36.6% between 2018 to 2021. Researchers have also observed that Black youth between 5 to 12 years old are twice as likely to die by suicide than their white peers.

This is all the more concerning when we consider that Black suicide rates were among the lowest of any demographic in the U.S. prior to 2000.

In the past, research on youth suicide focused mainly on white youth, leaving holes in our understanding of mental health and suicidality among Black youth. From 2003 to 2017, a total of 1,810 suicide deaths occurred among Black youth. Suicide rates among Black girls increased twice as much as among Black boys. But, both groups had an increase in suicide rates.

As a result of the rising rates of suicide in the U.S., mental health professionals should perform suicide risk assessments that look for potential risk factors for suicidality when evaluating clients. These include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Substance abuse
  • Feeling hopeless, trapped, or unbearable pain
  • Lack of social support
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of relationships
  • Declining physical health
  • Extreme mood swings

To learn more about performing these assessments, see our post, Suicide Risk Assessment: How to Talk About Suicidal Ideation.

Risk factors affecting Black youth mental health

When trying to understand the reason why Black youth are dying by suicide at higher rates, it is important to understand the risk factors contributing to these trends. These can add significant stress in your clients’ lives and can include:

Suicidality among LGBTQ Black youth

LGBTQ youth tend to have higher rates of suicide compared to their heterosexual peers. In a 2023 research report by the Trevor Project, 41% of LGBTQ youth reported that they “seriously considered attempting suicide.” The authors of the report go on to note that “Young people who are transgender, nonbinary, and/or people of color reported higher rates than their peers.”

If we dive into the numbers furnished by the Trevor Project, we find that the research bears this out. Among white LGBTQ youth, 37% considered suicide in the past year, and 11% attempted suicide in the past year. Among Black LGBTQ youth, both numbers increased by a significant margin: 44% considered suicide and 16% attempted suicide.

One reason for higher rates of suicidality among Black LGBTQ youth could be the multiple layers of discrimination they face.

Black youth may experience racial discrimination and vicarious racism (hearing about racism against one’s own racial group) both of which can lead to racial trauma. Add to this anti-LGBTQ prejudices they may experience, and this abuse has the potential to create negative mental health outcomes.

Real problems need real solutions

The Black youth mental health crisis and its impact on suicidality call for customized interventions.

Researchers have discussed the Interpersonal Psychological Theory of Suicide (IPTS) as one promising option. IPTS states that suicidality stems from the intersection of two interpersonal-psychological factors: feeling like one does not belong and that one is a burden to others. This model has the potential to identify youth who are at risk for suicide and provide them with effective interventions. These interventions can include community-based, culturally competent care, and more.

To impact the development and funding of community-based intervention programs, policies must be put in place. The Congressional Black Caucus created an Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, advocating for increased NIH/NIMH research funding and emphasizing evidence-based interventions tailored to the unique challenges faced by Black youth.

As the suicide rate among Black youth increases, we must understand the intersecting risk factors negatively impacting their mental health. Funded research and culturally competent intervention programs are key in providing support to Black youth and their families.

If you are in crisis or know someone who is, please call or share the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 988.

Suicide Prevention Training: Identifying and Responding to Risk

No matter your care setting, having up-to-date knowledge on identifying, assessing, and responding to suicide risk in persons served and staff should be an integral part of your practice.

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