New research confirms self-reported suicide attempts on the rise for Black teens


New research shows a disturbing trend in Black teens: their suicide attempt rates are going up, while suicide rates in other groups continue to diminish.

According to a new study released on Monday by researchers at the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University, there is a growing crisis of suicide attempts among Black high school students.

Michael A. Lindsey Ph.D., MSW, MPH, who is the executive director of the McSilver Institute and the Constance and Martin Silver Professor of Poverty Studies at NYU Silver School of Social Work is the lead researcher on the study along with YunYu Xiao. The two uncovered that self-reported suicide attempt rates for Black adolescents rose 73% over the study period of 1991-2017. By comparison, self-reported suicide attempt rates fell 7.5% in white adolescents.

“Further research must be done into why traditional precursors to suicide attempts, such as thinking about it or making plans, are decreasing while actual attempts are going up. It’s important that we identify the signs before young people attempt to end their lives,” said Lindsey.

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“Youth suicide is very real and must be addressed,” said New York State Senator David Carlucci, Chair of the NYS Senate’s Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee. “The numbers are staggering among Black youth, and just one life lost is one too many. We need a task force to specifically investigate the causes of Black youth suicide.”

To that point, the findings, which were published in the November 2019 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, also uncovered:

  • Self-reported suicide attempts increased at an accelerating rate in Black female teenagers as well, even as overall female suicide attempts declined.
  • There was a significant increase in injuries from self-reported suicide attempts in Black male teenagers.
  • A surprising dynamic in the relationship between self-reported suicide thoughts (ideation), plans and attempts were revealed: ideation and plans decreased while actual attempts increased.

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“The number of Black youth who are tragically taking their own lives is rising at an alarming rate, and that is why I sponsored legislation to establish a Black Youth Suicide taskforce here in New York State,” says New York State Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre of the 11th Assembly District.

Judge Ronald E. Richter, CEO and Executive Director of JCCA and former Commissioner, NYC Administration for Children’s Services, agrees, urging the need for to urgently address these findings.

“The McSilver Institute’s findings of increased suicide attempts and self-injury among Black young adults are important and tremendously concerning, particularly for those of us who work in New York’s child welfare community where Black families are chronically, disproportionately overrepresented,” said Richter.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the third-leading cause of death in 2017 among Black youth ages 15-19.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit The Suicide Prevention Resource Center for additional resources.

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