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Sharp Health News

Suicide rates rise among Black youth and young adults

March 22, 2022

Young male feeling forlorn

The mental health of Black Americans is a significant concern, as more Black youth are dying by suicide. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows the suicide rate for this population rose by 30% from 2014 to 2019.

In California, recent data highlight a serious concern, specifically regarding young Black individuals: The suicide rate doubled among Black youth and young adults, age 10 to 24, from 2014 to 2020.

While more research is needed to gather data and examine exactly how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected mental health, Dr. Monica Hinton, PhD, a behavioral health therapist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital and president of the Association of Black Psychologists San Diego Chapter, believes the isolation of the pandemic and increased overt racism is worsening suicide rates among Black youth.

“The pandemic has forced people to isolate themselves, and changed the way schools are normally run,” she says. “Many parents have lost jobs due to the pandemic, and this has worsened the socioeconomic challenges that have always been a risk factor for Black youth, limiting their access to health care and mental health care.”

Rising rates of suicide
Dr. Hinton cites the intersection of socioeconomic challenges, isolation, racism and racial trauma, along with bullying and struggling with gender identity and sexuality, as possible reasons why the suicide rates have climbed.

“When there aren’t counselors or teachers at school equipped to provide emotional support in nurturing Black youths’ self-esteem and self-efficacy, or when there isn’t access to mentors or other systems of support, youth are susceptible to negative beliefs that might be internalized,” says Dr. Hinton.

Additionally, Dr. Hinton says that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can increase the risk of youths wanting to harm themselves. ACEs include abuse, neglect, observing violence in one’s home or community, unstable housing, food insecurity and inconsistent parenting — including death of a family member by suicide.

“Incidents like these can cause hopelessness and thoughts like, ‘What’s the point?’ or ‘Nothing in life matters,’” says Dr. Hinton. “They can also lead to depression, anxiety and addiction.”

Ways to help young people
However, there are ways to help. Dr. Hinton advises showing interest in a child’s or teen’s hobbies and day-to-day activities.

“I completely understand that so many parents and guardians are busy and struggling with finances in this current pandemic and world climate,” says Dr. Hinton. “But to even take 15 minutes of your day to ask your child, ‘How was school?’ or engage with them can be very helpful.”

The key is to ask about the things the child or teen likes, rather than having an intimidating conversation about mental health.

“Sitting down and saying, ‘Tell me about your mental health,’ may not be the best way to have them open up,” says Dr. Hinton. “Instead, if you ask them about things they enjoy — their hobbies, sports, art, video games — it can encourage them to talk more naturally. And from that conversation, you can try to gauge how they’re doing.”

Watch for warning signs
Dr. Hinton explains that changes in behavior and increased incidents of isolation and struggles at school can be warning signs of depression, self-harm or other behaviors leading to suicide.

“It’s not necessarily always the case, but for example, if your child has always liked a certain sport and suddenly they don’t like it anymore, they could have been bullied, hurt or traumatized in some way,” says Dr. Hinton. “It would be good to check in with your child to really see what’s going on in their life.”

Although it can be difficult during the pandemic, Dr. Hinton says a supportive community can help people cope with mental health challenges.

“Teaching and reminding our Black youth about their own self-worth and personal power can help save their lives,” she says.

If you or a loved one is in crisis, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255. For additional assistance, Sharp Mesa Vista is here to help. Please call 858-836-8434.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Hinton about the increases in suicide rates among Black youth and young adults for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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