The suicide rate among Black youth is on the rise in the U.S. and the driving force behind it is systemic racism, according to Dr. Preston Igwe, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Risk factors for suicide for Black youth are all connected to systemic racism,” Igwe tweeted. “Neighborhood violence, economic insecurity, ACEs, historical trauma. And the trauma is more prevalent and severe when compared to children of other racial/ethnic groups.”
ACE stands for adverse childhood experiences.
For years, the suicide rate for Black youth trailed behind that of white and Asian youth, but that’s no longer the case. A 2018 study found that Black children between the age of 5 and 12 are about twice as likely to die by suicide as white children of the same age.
“Black adolescents average over 5 racial discrimination experiences per day. This could be microaggressions (which aren’t micro at all) or more overt instances of racism,” Dr. Igwe wrote on Twitter.
Another study, “Black Youth Suicide: Investigation of Current Trends and Precipitating Circumstances,” published in 2021, found even higher suicide rates among Black children and adolescents. Between 2003 and 2017, suicides rose in this group, especially among Black girls, whose rate of increase was more than twice as high as Black boys, Scientific American reported.
Factoring into the high rates of suicide amongst Black teens are inferior education or poor schools, limited or no access to resources to compete on an equal playing field for academic awards and scholarships, and lack of access to finances to partake in SAT prep courses, said board-certified psychotherapist Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams in an email to The Moguldom Nation. Dr. Williams is an author and professor of psychology.
“Also to be considered are generational trauma that results from the trauma experienced by their birth parents,” Williams added. “The low rate of two-parent homes, nutrition, and poverty contribute to detrimental mental health effects that lead to hopelessness and depression that can result in suicide.”
The trauma of racism appears to affect young Black people profoundly.
“The color of our skin brings on multiple micro and macro aggressions daily to youth and adults,” wrote Dr. Williams, who has often appeared on “Good Morning America.” “But for Black youth who are less equipped to respond or deflect the aggressions, it can lead to poor self-esteem, violence in retaliating against these actions, despair, self-doubt, and depression.”
On May 10, Dr. Tami Benton, the Fredrick Allen Endowed Professor of Psychiatry at The Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania, held a lecture on Zoom to discuss the factors behind the increased suicide rate of Black youth.
The lecture, entitled “The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide,” was hosted by the UCLA Brain Research Institute.
“I knew suicide rates for Black youth have been rising, especially since the pandemic began. But this lecture by Dr. Benton highlighted many other facts I wasn’t aware of. Gonna share some for folks who are interested,” tweeted Igwe.
What teens see on the internet also seems to play a role in teen depression.
“The videos of police brutality, racism, and murder of Black youth, unarmed or innocent bystanders, or victims of wrongful identification can lead to a loss of identity, constant fear, anxiety, and depression,” Williams told The Moguldom Nation.
“Exposure to traumatic videos online contributes to symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress,” tweeted Igwe.
The fear of police is a real threat to all persons of color, Igwe continued. “For our youth, it is the loss of security in knowing that those who we are supposed to trust to protect us are not there or will harm us in seeking their help.”
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For older Black youth, relationship issues are behind some suicides. In ages 15 to 17, “the most common precipitating factor for a suicide attempt is relationship problems. For younger adolescents, it’s family problems,” tweeted Igwe.
The environment can also triggers suicides, especially in younger youth.
“Community violence exposure in Black boys in the 6th grade was found to be correlated with depressive symptoms and aggressive behavior. This is further associated with suicide attempts in the 8th grade. We’re talking about middle school kids, y’all! This is wild,” Igwe wrote.
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