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Study finds disturbing rise in black teens attempting suicide

Suicide attempts by black teens are rising at alarming rates – even as rates fall among their white peers

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 to 34
  • Attempts of suicide increased among black teens, but either remained steady or fell for other racial groups
  • Black male teens had the highest rate of injuries reported during suicide attempts, meaning they may be using highly lethal means 

Black teenagers are attempting suicide at rising rates – even as the rates in other racial and ethnic groups decline, a new study says.

Researchers found that attempts of suicide among black teens rose between 1991 and 2017, especially among teen girls.  

Additionally, the rate of black male teens reporting injuries from suicide attempts increased faster than that of any other demographic. 

The recent rise in suicide attempts among black teenagers is an emerging concern, but Native American teens historically have been and still are at the highest risk of attempts. 

What’s more, the team, from the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University, found that, while suicide thoughts and planning rates decreased, attempts themselves increased. 

A new study has found that black teenagers are attempting suicide at rising rates – even as the rates in other racial and ethnic groups decline

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Historically, American white teenagers have had higher rates of suicide than black teens, but that’s slowly been changing. 

A 2018 study from The Ohio State University found that black boys and girls between ages five and 12 were taking their own lives at twice the rate of white children of the same age range.  

For the new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, the team looked at data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey between 1991 and 2017. 

Among all high school students, one in five said they were currently thinking about suicide while one in 10 said they had a plan for how to commit suicide in place.

But researchers found that reported suicide attempts among black teenagers increased over the course of the study period, especially among black girls.

Black male teens had an increase in injuries from suicide attempts, which could mean that the attempts are done with very lethal means or weapons. 

‘It is urgent that we get to the bottom of why the rate of suicide attempts among Black female adolescents is accelerating,’ said lead author Dr Michael Lindsey, executive director of the McSilver Institute.

‘We also need to understand why Black males are increasingly injured in suicide attempts.’

The authors did not explain what was behind these rising rates, but past studies have found that factors such as family violence, bullying and sexual abuse increases the risk of teen suicide. 

‘These findings should also push us to expand how we frame suicide prevention from mostly looking at individual-focused efforts and explanations, to societal based changes,’ said Gary Belkin, former NYC deputy health commissioner. 

‘Rising suicidality is the tip of an iceberg that should compel us to ask not only what are these children doing to themselves, but ask about the structural and racist violence of our society – what is society doing to them?’

For future research, the team plans to examine why rates of teens thinking about suicide attempts are decreasing but the attempts themselves are increasing. 

‘It’s important that we identify the signs before young people attempt to end their lives,’ said Dr Lindsey.  

  • For confidential help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or click here.
  • For confidential support on suicide matters in the UK, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90, visit a local Samaritans branch or click here.
  • For confidential support in Australia, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or click here.