Black youth suicide is a crisis, expert says culturally relevant treatment is key
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2019, it was the second leading cause of death for Black people ages 15 to 24.
Historically suicide rates have been higher among men and boys across all racial groups, but the gap is now narrowing between Black teen boys and girls, as suicide rates increase among Black girls.
Dr. Janelle Goodwill, an assistant professor at the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice at the University of Chicago, shares some takeaways about this crisis of suicide in Black youth and from this narrowing gap.
"I think it definitely is pointing us to and letting us know that the interventions need to be happening much earlier so that Black teen girls and Black teen boys could essentially beginning this mental health promotion and even suicide prevention training when they're in middle school or even elementary school. Because essentially, we're seeing that waiting until high school is too late," she says.
Goodwill says there could be many things contributing to the negative mental health of young Black people. She says studies reveal that bullying, interpersonal problems and also not having access to mental health treatment have been found to appear in young people who have died by suicide.
"So, for instance, when comparing the experiences of young Black children who died by suicide to children of other races, we've seen that Black children have been less likely to actually have received mental health treatment before their death," she says.
Goodwill emphasizes that access, awareness and treatment are key to reaching Black youth. "I think if we're able — we as researchers and clinicians — will do a much better job in terms of providing access to culturally relevant treatment, and I think we could definitely do a much better job of ensuring that Black youth, Black children and their families have the necessary tools to address these mental health crises when they arise."
Culturally relevant treatment accounts for the unique experiences of the individual or group of people, Goodwill says.
She explains what that might look for Black children: "A culturally relevant suicide prevention intervention would essentially be providing treatment and design a treatment plan that is focused on the unique lived experiences, and inclusive of the experiences of Black folks. And so ... it would really, I think, push us to think about how even if a treatment is found to be effective in a different group, we have to consider the unique set of circumstances that would impact or shape the way or the reasons why somebody who is a Black teenager, a Black young adult or a Black child might find that treatment to be inaccessible or irrelevant to their lived experiences or even just not of interest."
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide — trained help is available. You can talk to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or dial 988.
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