I recently received a panic call from a friend who had just received a text message from his 22-year-old brother that looked like a suicide note.
"Thank you for everything you've done to try to help me," he said. “Nothing has gone well in my life. I have no job, friends or girlfriend. I hate being alone all the time. I feel like a failure You and everyone else would be better off without me.
My friend didn't know what to do, so he called me because I'm a clinical psychologist.
I asked questions to assess the risk of the young man. Do you use drugs or alcohol? Yes, and it has been increasing. Have you had any significant losses recently? Yes, he was fired from his job. Is it someone who normally seeks attention? No, he is sullen, dark and withdrawn. Are you currently connected to any mental health treatment? No.
I was worried. I recommended that my friend drive immediately to his brother's house and take him to the emergency room for a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation.
This young man's fight is very familiar. Young blacks are making suicide attempts and dying from suicide at record rates.
A November 2019 pediatrics study found that the suicide attempt rate for young blacks increased an alarming 73 percent between 1991 and 2017, while suicide attempts decreased 7.5 percent among white teenagers. Black children also had a significant increase in the injuries they received from attempts, suggesting that they are participating in more lethal methods.
Overall, suicide deaths increased by 33 percent in the United States between 1999 and 2017, with rates that increased in all age groups, races and ethnicities, and among men and women. However, the highest rates of increase have been observed among adolescents and young adults.
Young blacks are cause for concern. This year, the Journal of Community Health published a study showing that, from 2001 to 2017, the suicide death rate in black boys aged 13 to 19 increased by 60 percent, while the rate of black girls soared a Amazing 182 percent.
In my clinical and research experience working with black women, I have found a history of child abuse and neglect, as well as feelings of rejection and abandonment that have led to suicide attempts during their youth. This story can also lead to innumerable behavioral and academic problems at school, sexual victimization in adulthood and difficulties in maintaining a job.
During one of my support groups for women with depression, a 21-year-old told me she thinks about committing suicide every day.
"I just can't take it anymore," he said. She was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend of 9 to 12 years and left home at 17. She now had two children and was pregnant with her third. She could no longer work because she was at bed rest because the pregnancy was high risk, she struggled to support herself and her children. Her boyfriend entered and left her life, and there was no one to help her. She felt trapped and saw no way out of suffering.
While much attention has been paid to homicide as the number one cause of death among black youth, conversations about suicide, one of the four leading causes of death among black youth, have been inadequate. From 2011 to 2017, suicide deaths exceeded homicide deaths among all people aged 10 to 24, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control.
Many of the homicide risk factors are also suicide risk factors. These include having a history of trauma, emotional distress, hopelessness, experiencing significant loss, substance use, impulsivity, isolation, rejection and access to lethal weapons. For those who interact regularly with young people, aggressive behavior, impulsivity and substance use capture their attention instead of the quieter symptoms of depression. Depression goes unnoticed and is not treated.
Young blacks all too often receive messages that their lives are not valued and that they are less deserving of support, nutrition and protection than their peers from other backgrounds. Compared to white children, they receive more detentions, suspensions and expulsions at school, have higher rates of arrests and imprisonment, and fewer options for high quality education and stable employment.
Many young blacks often fight for their lives in a system that actively works against them, which can be exhausting and feel like an uphill and pointless battle.
My friend went to see his brother, and when he got there, his brother said he was "fine." He did not go to the emergency room or receive outpatient mental health treatment as he had suggested.
While family support is critical in mental health problems, it is not enough when someone has persistent thoughts of death. However, it is not unusual for people to minimize the symptoms of a mental illness, think that the problem will improve on their own or will resist seeking treatment due to stigma and shame. This delay in seeking treatment allows symptoms to become chronic, severe and debilitating.
In my practice, I have faced a dangerous false narrative in the black community: blacks do not commit suicide. This outdated belief minimizes the deep despair and hopelessness that many young people experience. It also gets in the way of identifying and treating people with mental health needs.
It is imperative that the black community in general be educated about suicide as a public health problem among their youth.
Teachers, school social workers and primary care physicians should be trained to recognize the signs of depression and trauma, and perform comprehensive suicide assessments. In addition, youth mental health support groups with trained facilitators should be available in environments that young people naturally attend, such as schools, tutoring programs, summer camps and community centers, rather than relying solely on health clinics. mental health.
Perhaps most importantly, we should not rely on the old assumptions of what appears to be at risk of suicide. And we should encourage young people to express negative thoughts and emotions without shame or fear of judgment.