The gap between suicide-related rates among Black youth and historically higher rates among White youth is narrowing, and glaring racial disparities in mental health treatment remain, according to a report released by a Congressional task force.
"Alarming trends among Black youth have been overlooked as America grapples with rising suicide rates,” said Michael A. Lindsey, PhD, MSW, MPH, Executive Director of the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research. Lindsey leads the working group of researchers and experts who helped to produce the report by the Congressional Black Caucus’s Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health. Chaired by Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, the task force was formed in April to explore the causes of and solutions to increasing rates of suicide among Black children and teenagers.
“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,” said Lindsey. “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."
Titled “Ring the Alarm: the Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America,” the report includes a research section summarizing the current state of studies about Black youth, suicide and suicidal behaviors. It provides details about risk factors, protective factors, mental health service usage, stigma and other factors that may influence the trends that researchers are seeing.
The report also calls for increased funding for research relating to Black youth mental health and suicide through National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) funding, as well as increased funding and resources for Black researchers. Black scientists—those most closely connected to this population—are 10 percentage points less likely than White scientists to be awarded NIH research funding.
Lindsey was the lead researcher of a study published in the November 2019 issue of Pediatrics. Based on the study data, self-reported suicide attempts rose by 73% between 1991-2017 for Black high school students who took the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, while injuries by attempt rose by 122% for Black adolescent boys. Prior research led by Dr. Jeffrey Bridge of Ohio State University, which is cited in the task force report, revealed that the suicide rate for Black children 5-12 is roughly twice that of White children of the same age group.
A number of trends of increasing suicide rates among Black youth are noted in the report. In youth ages 10-19, suicide was the second leading cause of death and in 2017 – over 3,000 youth died by suicide in this age group, and the Black youth suicide rate rose from 2.55 per 100,000 in 2007 to 4.82 per 100,000 in 2017. Meanwhile, Black youth under 13 years are two times more likely to die by suicide and when comparing by sex, and Black males, 5 to 11 years, are more likely to die by suicide compared to their White peers. Finally, according to the report, the suicide death rate among Black youth has been found to be increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group."
Alongside the report, Congresswoman Watson Coleman announced the pending introduction of a comprehensive legislative package aimed at addressing youth mental health — in communities of color and well beyond — titled The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act of 2019. It will include new and existing legislative proposals to increase the amount of research relating to Black youth mental health and suicide through the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Mental Health, particularly research undertaken by minority researchers; as well as increase funding for and direct the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) to study mental health disparities in racial and ethnic minority groups.
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