Rising rates of suicide and suicidal behaviors among Black youth, along with limited data available indicate the need to mobilize research for prevention, according to a viewpoint article published by JAMA Pediatrics.
In December 2019, the Congressional Black Caucus published a call to Congress, “Ring the Alarm: The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America,” in order to address the increasing rates of suicide and suicidal behavior in the United States among Black youth. This report called for more funding for Black scientists and the need to create a research agenda focusing on the prevention of suicide among Black youth.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the fifth leading cause of death for Black youth (5 to 17 years) in 2008. By 2018, suicide for Black youth was found to be the third leading cause of death. Compared to their White counterparts, the rate of suicide in Black youth under the age of 13 years is approximately 2 times higher.
There has also been an increase in suicidal ideation and attempts among Black youth. Data from 2009 to 2019 revealed that Black youth who considered suicide increased from 12.95% to 16.89% (P < .001). Black youth who made a suicide plan grew from 9.79% in 2009 to 15.02% (P <.001) in 2019 and the numbers also rose in those individuals who attempted suicide from 7.94% to 11.85% (P = .05).
The viewpoint authors suggest using a “ground zero” approach when addressing Black youth suicide due to the lack of knowledge and published literature about the issue. They explain how culturally sensitive theories may be more effective than past research where common theories of suicide are universally applied without taking in account race, ethnicity and culture. Exploring culturally sensitive theories will give insight to researchers on unique risk factors faced by Black youth, such as race-related stressors, trauma exposures and stereotypes, according to the authors. They also emphasized the need for research identifying developmental trajectory of Black youth suicide and the need to create spaces within trusted community organizations in order to normalize suicide screenings and prevention efforts within the community.
The authors of the viewpoint piece concluded by stating, “Low representation of Black youth in research and lower rates of funding for Black researchers compared with their White peers should not be accepted as the status quo. Increased innovation and discovery within suicide research is needed to understand why Black youth suicide rates are increasing and how we can intervene.”
Sheftall AH, Miller AB. Setting a ground zero research agenda for preventing Black youth suicide. JAMA Pediatr. Published online June 28, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.1112