While suicide attempts decreased overall among US adolescents between 1991 and 2017, attempts among black teens rose 73%, according to a new study.
“The rise in suicide rates among black youth can most likely be traced back to an internalization of issues around structural racism in America, along with a lack of coping mechanisms and lack of investment in mental health services in black communities,” says Sean Joe, professor of social development at Washington University in St. Louis and coauthor of the study, published in Pediatrics.
“Black youth experience disparities in mental health treatment,” Joe says. “They may not want to face the fact that they have a problem. They may not want to be judged. Another explanation could be that black adolescents view mental health treatment with skepticism because of mistrust of providers.”
Researchers used the nationally representative school-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey to examine suicide trends by different racial and ethnic groups. Participants included 198,540 high school students.
The results suggest that, over time, black youth have experienced an increase in suicide attempts. In comparison, self-reported suicide attempts for white adolescents fell by 7.5% over the same period.
“This is troubling because attempts are the most prominent risk factor associated with suicide death,” Joe says.
For black boys, the study shows, there was a significant increase in injury by attempt, which suggests that black boys may be engaging in increasingly lethal means when attempting suicide.
“Our findings reveal that almost one in five adolescents are thinking about suicide and more than one in 10 has a suicide plan,” Joe says.
Despite increased attention given to the creation of campaigns to reduce youth suicide in the US over the last decade, the findings suggest that experts should put more resources toward such programs.
“The dearth in suicide research has limited our understanding of how to intervene or prevent suicidal behavior among ethnic minority populations,” Joe says. “Greater equity in science is needed to advance career pathways for ethnic minority investigators posing critical question like what we raised in this article.”