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Black Youth Suicide: How to Slow Rising Rates

Jul 30, 2021
African American teen sitting outside on some steps.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 10- to 19-year-olds. Little research exists on the rate of Black youth suicide specifically, but we do know it is on the rise. From 2009 to 2019, the percentage of Black youth who considered suicide, made a suicide plan and attempted suicide all increased. In fact, the rate of suicide in Black youth younger than age 13 is approximately two times higher compared to white children of the same age.

So how do we slow the rate of suicide in Black youth? I, along with other researchers here at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, believe we must start from the ground up. There are three main ways we believe we can make a difference.

  1. Do more research. The risk factors for suicidal behaviors, such as depression, may not apply to Black youth the same as they do white youth. One area of concern for Black youth is their exposure to the murders of unarmed Black men. This exposure has been linked to negative mental health outcomes throughout the Black community, but it is not clear how exposure, either directly or via media coverage, affect Black youth mental health.
  2. Understand the pathway. Evidence tells us that Black youth don’t show expected or “classic” warning signs of suicidal behavior, like depression or suicidal ideation or thoughts of suicide before attempting or dying by suicide. So how do Black youth reach this point? Learning more about their pathway needs to be a top priority.
  3. Entrust community partners to help with prevention. Places like beauty and barber shops have shown to help tackle health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular (heart) health and HIV testing. Similar successes could be achieved with mental health within settings like churches, Black Greek organizations, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, after-school programs and others. The reason? Trust already exists in these settings.

Here in the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at the Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion, we are dedicated to continuing this important research so that we can help youth before they reach a mental health crisis.  

If you or your child need immediate help due to having suicidal thoughts, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. If there is an immediate safety concern, call 911 or go the nearest emergency room.

Featured Expert

Arielle Sheftall
Arielle Sheftall, PhD
Center for Suicide Prevention and Research

Arielle Sheftall, PhD, is a principal investigator in the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Her research program investigates early vulnerability factors associated with suicidal behavior in young children with the goal of implementing early intervention programs to prevent future suicidal behavior in at-risk youth.

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