Suicide Attempts Rising Among Black Teens in an alarming manner
Historically, black teenagers in America have experienced lower suicide rates than whites. However, a new study finds that more black adolescents have been attempting suicide in recent years — and experts aren’t certain why.
Researchers at New York University found that between 1991 and 2017, there was an increase in the number of black teens who said they had attempted suicide in the last year. That was compared to other racial and cultural groups, whose reported rates either decreased or held steady.
The findings, published online Oct. 14 in the journal Pediatrics, add to ever-growing concerns about increasing suicide rates in America.
However, they don’t show the reasons for the troubling tendency among black teenagers.
For years, black adolescents have experienced a relatively lower risk of suicide than their white peers, noted Dr. Benjamin Shain, a child, and adolescent psychologist at NorthShore University Health System, in Deerfield, Ill.
And that is despite stressors like high rates of poverty, racial discrimination and less access to medical care, he said.
Shain, who wrote an editorial published with the study, said he could only speculate on explanations for the current upward trend. However, one broad potential is that variables that have traditionally shielded black children from suicidal behavior may be fading.
“That’s one possibility,” agreed Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Another, he said, is that recent social shifts are attracting black teens more in accordance with their white peers in regard to suicidal behavior.
“Are there any different social pressures today? Is social media a variable? Could it be the political climate?” Duckworth said. “We are going to need more study to comprehend this.”
For the analysis, Michael Lindsey, executive director of NYU’s McSilver Institute, and colleagues analyzed the outcomes of a national health survey that’s been conducted every two years since 1991. Each one surveys a nationally representative sample of high school students about different”health-risk behaviors.”
Between 1991 and 2017, nearly 19 percent of pupils said they had thought about suicide in the last year, while almost 15 percent had intended to kill themselves. Just under 8 percent said they had attempted to kill themselves, the findings showed.
When the researchers looked at patterns over time, they discovered some positive signs: The proportion of students who said they had thought about suicide was actually lower in more-recent years than in the 1990s. And self-reported suicide attempts appear to be declining among Asian, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaskan Native teens.
It is only among black teens that they’re rising. In actuality, the study found, the growth might be accelerating among black women; nonetheless, black boys are being hurt during suicide attempts.
“It’s urgent that we get to the bottom of the rate of suicide attempts among black female teens is accelerating,” Lindsey said in a university news release. “We also have to know why black men are increasingly hurt in suicide attempts.”
The findings come amid growing concerns about suicides among Americans of all ages. A study published last month found a 41% increase in the U.S. suicide rate between 1999 and 2016. Rates were higher in rural counties, versus big metropolitan regions.
And in 2017, the suicide rate among 15- to 19-year-olds attained a 20-year high — in almost 12 deaths for every 100,000 teens, government figures reveal. That compared with eight deaths per 100,000 in 2000.
The pattern found in the new study is somewhat perplexing, with the number of teenagers reporting suicidal thoughts really dipping. There’s no obvious explanation, both Shain and Duckworth said.
1 potential, Shain said, is that fewer children are considering suicide, but when they do they are more likely to try it with highly lethal means.
That could also be one reason the speed of self-reported harm from a suicide attempt has risen among black boys, according to Lindsey’s team.
Duckworth pointed to a sobering statistic: In the last few years, Americans’ average life expectancy has been declining — owing largely to opioid overdoses and suicides.
What’s clear, he said, is that suicide is a”public health catastrophe.”
Source of News and reported by Amy Norton