As Black youth suicide rates rise, advocate shares his story of suicidal thoughts that began during childhood
Between 2014 and 2019 suicide among Black Americans increased by 30% and was the second leading cause of death among Black Americans ages 15-24.
Data from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office shows that from 2019 to 2022 the number of suicides in Black residents of all ages increased.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reports that rates of suicide among Black youth have increased faster than in any other racial and ethnic group in the past 20 years. Some predictors can be community violence, socioeconomic factors, stress, discrimination and stigma.
Eddie Cannedy, who was born and raised in Milwaukee, says some of those predictors played a part in his story. Cannedy started having suicidal thoughts as early as 3 years old, and was even caught trying to harm himself.
"I kind of felt this energy around me since my entire life, but she, my mom, was the one who kind of, you know, saw everything, and she just said that I just wanted to, you know, die. From what I remember is that as a young child, I felt like life wasn't really in my control," Cannedy says. "I really felt like I had like no options in anything and it's kind of weird, 3 years old, you're feeling that at such a young age, but at that time, something really traumatic happened to me that made me feel like I didn't have, you know, power. I didn't have autonomy. I didn't have personhood and all these different things that are, you know, important to make a holistic person."
Cannedy says he comes from a family where most have experienced incarceration or have engaged in criminal activity and barely had a high school or college education. "The quality of life that you have and the venues and opportunities for what you can do with your life lessens, and that also plays a part in uh, as I got older, some of the suicidal thoughts again, already feeling like I don't have many options for myself," he says. "I don't really have a sense of personhood and then as I get older, the systemic issues that I'm, you know, forced to face due to the lack of like generational wealth and pedigree and the kind of culture that I'm being raised around and in, you know, kind of played a factor in all that too."
Cannedy says these circumstances withered him down a lot, especially with the expectations for his own life. He says these types of thoughts can manifest in young people at any age, and it's not always the result of trauma. Cannedy says their minds may not function in the sense that self-preservation and sustaining the self are really important.
When it comes to clinical intervention for Black youth, mental health and substance use are often under-recognized, under-treated and misdiagnosed. And they're less likely to get follow-up care and more likely to get less quality care.
Cannedy did have medical intervention—he went to therapy—but he says it eventually phased out of his life.
"By the time I got into young childhood, so around the age of I would say like 9 we really didn't do therapy all that often, and it really wasn't really that highly recognized," he says. "I don't really remember what stopped us going to therapy. But I allowed members. It wasn't really a thing that was consistently part of my schedule, and at some point it kind of phased out of my life."
He continues, "But the things that I was dealing with both like in within my life both as well as the suicidal thoughts that I was experiencing were still going on. And then as I got older and then into puberty and then like experiences of like exploring my sexual orientation, started to play a factor into that."
Cannedy does say he did enjoy going to therapy as a kid, however, and it's one of the reasons he continues therapy as an adult.
Cannedy says the struggles with his mental health came with a sense of embarrassment at times too.
"You do recognize there's something different about yourself from other people, and that other people got this, this thing about them where they, I don't know, I don't wanna say, like value themselves. Like I don't wanna say that not all people who experience suicidal ideation don't value themselves because that's not always the case. But they have this thing where they don't have to carry that weight with them, and you can tell," Cannedy says.
And he adds that shame can also come from how people talk about suicidal ideation and try to pull people out of it.
"Oftentimes people try to say, 'well, you have so many people that care about you and you have all these friends,'" Cannedy says. "And it's kind of weird to say if you don't know that person to say those types of things because you don't know if they do have a community or support system that cares about them, and even if they do, you don't know if that's a healthy one. You don't know if that's what's contributing to why they have these thoughts and feelings."
Cannedy says that type of conversation is emotional guilt tripping. "Like how dare you wanna, I don't know, not wanna be here... with all the things you gotta do for other people and all that you know," he says.
Cannedy says suicidal thoughts still linger with him, but he's gone on a "treacherous journey," but learning to advocate for himself helps.
"It made my life a bit better. It made managing that a little bit better, or maybe developing a sense of self-preservation easier," he says. "It's like you know, yes, I'm dealing with this, yes, I have these thoughts, but I also — I owe it to myself to at least have an experience or life."
Cannedy says he just owes it to myself to exist.