Posted on October 16, 2019

Self-Reported Suicide Attempts Among Black US Teens Rising, Study Finds

Lauren Aratani, Guardian, October 14, 2019

Self-reported suicide attempts among black American teenagers are on the rise, according to a study published on Monday.

While the number of self-reported suicide attempts for white teenagers had no significant change over the years, and the number of attempts for Hispanic and Asian American or Pacific Islander teenagers have decreased, researchers found a 73% increase for black boys and girls in high school.

The study, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, looked at the results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a nationally representative school-based survey administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 198,540 high school students in ninth through 12th grade who took the survey between 1991 and 2017. The survey asked participants a set a four questions on suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Black girls and boys reported concerning suicide attempt increases. Though adolescent girls saw a significant decrease overall in reported suicide attempts, there was a significant increase for young black girls. There was also an increase in the number of black boys who reported injuring themselves while attempting suicide, meaning they could be turning to more lethal means in attempts to kill themselves.

The study’s researchers suggested a handful of explanations that could be behind the increase in attempts, offering fodder for future research.

Past studies have shown black youth are less likely to receive mental health treatment than their white counterparts. Stigma against mental health treatment and depression in a person’s social group and skepticism and mistrust toward mental healthcare providers may also be factors, according to the researchers. Finally, factors such as racial discrimination and poverty, which disproportionately affect black youth, could also play a role in depression, which can lead to suicide attempts.

Self-reported suicide ideation – thoughts and plans of suicide – decreased for all genders and racial and ethnic groups, suggesting that the rise in suicide attempts among black teenagers could be more impulsive, said Michael Lindsey, an author of the study.

“It’s important to contextualize behaviors that could lead to suicide,” Lindsey said. “We did not expect to see that black youth would be the only group to have the statistical increase [in suicide attempts]. Now begins the work of trying to figure it out.”

Over the past decade, suicide attempts and thoughts have nearly doubled for children and teenagers, with a rate of 6.7 suicides per 100,000 people in 2007 to 11.8 suicides per 100,000 people in 2017, according to the CDC. The agency determined that suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers ages 15 to 19.

Recent studies have just started to scrape the surface of the role race plays in suicide rates. Native American and Alaskan Natives have the highest suicide rate among boys and girls, followed by white girls and boys.

Black boys and girls have typically had lower rates of suicide than their white counterparts, but the new study adds to research published within the last five years that shows suicide rates and attempts are increasing among black children. Black children, particularly black boys aged five to 11, have seen increased rates of suicide, while the suicide rates for black children aged five to 12 has doubled compared with their white counterparts.