The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America

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We’re losing our kids’: Black youth suicide rate rising far faster than for whites; coronavirus, police violence deepen trauma.
A Report to Congress from The Congressional Black Caucus
Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, Task force Chair
In youth ages 10 to 19 years, suicide is the second leading cause of death, and in 2017, over 3,000 youth died by suicide in this age group. Over the past decade, increases in the suicide death rate for Black youth have seen the rate rising from 2.55 per 100,000 in 2007 to 4.82 per 100,000 in 2017.

Black youth under 13 years are twice as likely to die by suicide and when comparing by sex, Black males, 5 to 11 years, are more likely to die by suicide compared to their White peers. Finally, the suicide death rate among Black youth has been found to be increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group. When examining suicidal ideation and behavior results have been mixed. Nonetheless, a new study using the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (a national school survey of adolescent health behaviors developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) paints a further alarming picture for Black high-school aged youth. That study’s findings indicated that suicide attempts rose by 73% between 1991-2017 for Black adolescents (boy and girls), while injury by attempt rose by 122% for Black adolescent boys during that time period. This would suggest that Black males are engaging in more lethal means when attempting suicide. Although Black youth have historically not been considered at high risk for suicide or suicidal behaviors, current trends suggest the contrary.

The Challenge Ahead
The narrowing racial gap in suicide rates tells us that this emergent issue among Black youth warrants attention now. A cadre ofBlack researchers from across the United States has been ringing the alarm to raise awareness about this disturbing trend. Yet, very few research dollars have been committed by entities such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to investigate into what is happening; specifically, for evidence-based interventions relating to mental health and suicide risk; and studies about risk factors, protective factors, mental health utilization and engagement, as they pertain to Black youth. Black scientists—those most closely connected to this population—are 10 percentage points less likely than White scientists to be awarded NIH research funding; and a recent study by NIH scientists concluded that research topics proposed by Black scientists are less likely to be funded than those proposed by White researchers.

The First Steps Toward Action
These are among the reasons that on December 6, 2018, U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D, NJ —12th District), who has been a long-standing advocate of the mental health needs of the Black community, convened a congressional hearing that included some of the country’s leading Black researchers and practitioners to discuss mental health solutions for the increasing rates of suicide among Black youth. An outcome of that hearing was a recommendation for the Congressional Black Caucus to establish a taskforce to further examine Black youth suicide and devise solutions, with regard to both legislation and other interventions.

On April 30, 2019, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) established the Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental
Health (the Taskforce), with Rep. Watson Coleman as the chair. Upon its creation, the Taskforce empowered a Working Group of
experts composed of the country’s leading Black academic, research and practicing experts. The Taskforce and the Working Group were charged with identifying causes and solutions for Black youth suicide and mental health needs; developing and producing a report by the end of 2019; and describing the latest research, as well as practices and policy recommendations.

As part of the fact-gathering process, the CBC and the Taskforce held a number of hearings on Black youth suicide, including ones
that focused on the impact of social media and the role of the faith community. They also held a hearing to ascertain Black youths’
perspectives on the issue of suicide and mental health. Taraji P. Henson, founder of the Boris L. Henson Foundation (which focuses
on mental health), testified about mental health stigma and the barriers Black people face in accessing treatment during a special
hearing on June 7, 2019.

The Path Forward
The intention of this report is to raise awareness; provide an overview on the existing body of research; identify gaps in research,
policy and practice; highlight best practices for practitioners; and create a resource document for all who come into contact with
Black youth in healthcare, schools and other settings. The work of this Taskforce, in partnership with the CBC, will be ongoing and will include legislation; demonstration projects; regional roundtables; trainings; and engagement of policy makers on the federal, state and local levels. Most importantly, the Taskforce would like for this report to serve as a vital resource for the parents and caregivers of Black youth.

To read the full report to congress go full_taskforce_report.pdf (