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Member Research and Reports

WashU: Suicide Attempts by Black Adolescents on the Rise

While suicide attempts decreased overall among U.S. adolescents between 1991 and 2017, they increased by 73 percent among black adolescents, finds a new study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“The rise in suicide rates among black youth can most likely be traced back to an internalization of issues around structural racism in America, along with a lack of coping mechanisms and lack of investment in mental health services in black communities,” said Dr. Sean Joe, the Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development and nationally recognized authority on suicidal behavior among African Americans.

Dr. Joe is co-author of the study, published Oct. 1 in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers used the nationally representative school-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey to examine suicide trends by different racial and ethnic groups. Participants included 198,540 high school students. The results suggest that, over time, black youth have experienced an increase in suicide attempts. In comparison, self-reported suicide attempts for white adolescents fell by 7.5 percent over the same period.

“This is troubling because attempts are the most prominent risk factor associated with suicide death,” Dr. Joe said. “Our findings reveal that almost one in five adolescents are thinking about suicide and more than one in 10 has a suicide plan.”

“Black youth experience disparities in mental health treatment,” Dr. Joe said. “They may not want to face the fact that they have a problem. They may not want to be judged. Another explanation could be that black adolescents view mental health treatment with skepticism because of mistrust of providers.”

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