A landmark CDC report released this week looked at suicide-related deaths among American youths from 1999 to 2016. The data showed a steady, and particularly alarming, increase in deaths among black children and adolescents in the United States.
From 1999 to 2016, the number of nonfatal teen suicides has increased by more than 50 percent, climbing from 2,856 to 4,624 during that period. That means an additional 10,136 teens took their own lives.
Black teens experienced an 11 percent increase in suicide from 2000 to 2016, compared with an increase of less than 3 percent for white teens, the report found. Overall, those aged 10 to 14 who took their own lives increased by 55 percent in the United States from 1999 to 2016.
There’s no single answer, because for every suicide in the United States, dozens of others are not found. And that’s why tracking suicides is such a tough job: Suicide is a complex issue that involves the dynamics of family, peer and peer pressures, academic problems, mental health, substance abuse and access to psychiatric medications and life-saving programs, such as mental health and suicide prevention efforts.
There are specific reasons that black adolescents are more likely to take their own lives: African-American youth have higher rates of violence and substance abuse, which may impact their mental health. According to the CDC report, African-American youth aged 12 to 17 are 5.4 times more likely to experience a negative mental health condition than white youth of the same age.
Yet black youth are also more likely to be in the “lonely ” group, with someone on average spending an hour each day looking after the rest of the household. When they make a social connection, they are more likely to recover from depression, according to research on black children.
“African-American children in black communities are not getting the same opportunities to go to school, to get and keep a job, to get and keep some resources that other children get,” Virginia Dudley of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, which combats suicide issues in the African-American community, told WTOP. “And that’s why we’re seeing children being the most susceptible.”
Experts say one of the most important things to do right now is to break the silence about African-American adolescents’ struggles.
“It doesn’t have to happen to you,” Melonie Simpson, a black female teenager who has been suicidal, told WTOP. “It just has to happen to someone.”