The suicide rate in America amongst Black youth is increasing rapidly, and we have to ask ourselves why we are not collectively outraged by the preventable deaths of Black children.
In November 2019, a frightening study was released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which concluded that suicide attempts increased 73% among Black children between 1991–2017 and decreased 7.5% among white adolescents.
The study revealed suicide ideation and suicidal plans declined among US adolescents between 1991–2017; however, suicide attempts increased exclusively among Black adolescents.
Black boys between 5 and 11 years old have experienced an increase in suicide deaths, and in Black children ages 5–12 years old, the suicide rate is two times higher compared to white children.
In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death among Black children and teenagers.
A sex disparity was also present between Black children highlighting Black girls are more likely to attempt suicide and experience suicide ideation while Black boys, ages 5–11 years old, are more likely to die by suicide.
Though Black girls’ suicide attempts trend lower than Black boys, they trend the highest among white, Pacific Islander, Asian American, and American Indian adolescent girls.
In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death among Black children and teenagers. In 2018, 9-year-old McKenzie Adams died by suicide in Alabama with racism and intense bullying being the reasons as told by her family.
This month, two years since the case was closed, the family of Mckenzie has asked the Linden, Alabama police department to re-open the case of the fourth-grader citing “there are things that could have been missed on the first go-round.”
Would the school have kept a paper trail if McKenzie was the bully?
Jasmine Adams, McKenzie’s mother, asserts that they informed the school of her daughters’ bullying, and the school insisted they would keep an eye on McKenzie but noted they didn’t see any “evidence” of bullying.
This narrative plays into what we consistently see as it pertains to Black women and girls: Our pain is not believed or taken seriously. In this case, a young girl was actively seeking help from the people who were responsible for her wellbeing for eight hours, and they failed her.
Why were the concerns of the family not taken seriously, and more importantly, why was McKenzie not taken seriously? Why wasn’t she believed? Would the school have kept a paper trail if McKenzie was the bully?
Would McKenzie still be alive if she were a young white girl?
Set to attend a Divison I school on a full football scholarship, Bryce Goward, was one of the top high school football players in the country.
This was true until the seventeen-year-old died by suicide on December 30th, 2019 placing himself in front of a freight train.
Homelessness, the weight of leaving his mom and brothers behind, and his family’s difficult financial situation seem to have weighed heavily on Bryce’s shoulders as he prepared to enter what looked like a promising football career.
In a heart-twisting video, Bryce’s mom says her Georgia Tech bound son was “talking crazy” days before his suicide and was asking a lot of questions about death and spirituality. His cryptic tweets in his final days alive were also evidence of something larger at play.
The AAP study concluded that though the numbers of suicide amongst Black youth are clearly trending upwards and rapidly, the plans, suicide attempts, and youth suicidal ideation remains understudied.
The limited research of Black youth suicide is, in part, due to the lack of funding granted to Black scientists and researchers.
There is an evident national health crisis among Black youth in America.
A 38-page report by the Congressional Black Caucus founded organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) responsible for granting research dollars keep those dollars as it concerns the mental health and suicide risk of Black youth.
Black scientists who would have the most meaningful understanding of the Black youth population are 10 percentage points less likely than White scientists to be granted NIH research funding.
There is an evident national health crisis among Black youth in America. The way suicide intervention campaigns target white youth will not benefit Black youth because of the specific risk factors that target Black youth.
Black children are less likely to have access to mental health resources such as counselors and therapists, and if they do, these professionals are not equipped to work with Black children and their differences.
Another understandable risk factor is the mistrust of medical providers among Black people and youth because of the medical racism we’ve experienced for generations.
Black scientists, researchers, and mental health professionals must take the lead on these interventions.
Socially, Black adolescents experience racial discrimination, historical poverty, adverse childhood experiences, and exposure to trauma online and in real life.
Black boys and girls deserve more than we are giving them. They deserve to be heard and acknowledged. They deserve support. They deserve the very simple and preventative resources that will help them feel less alone in the world.
They are worthy of more.
***If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.***