NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Suicides among black youth growing concern

A year ago, we wrote about the alarming increase in the rates of suicide in Allen County, Indiana and across the nation. This week we learned that the rate of suicides among African-American adolescents in the U.S. is even worse.

Statistics a year ago showed a 50 percent jump in the number of suicides in Allen County between 2014 and 2017 and a 33 percent increase in Indiana since 1999.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued a report showing rates in nearly every state had risen since 1999 by an average of about 25 percent. But this week a study published by Ball State University came out showing the rate of suicides among African-American teens is an even more severe crisis that needs urgent attention. And News-Sentinel.com stands with the study’s co-authors in urging our school districts, in particular, to take aggressive actions to address the problem.

Suicides among African-American males ages 13 to 19 increased by 60 percent to 1,375 between 2001 and 2017. The rate for females increased by 182 percent to 377 during that same period. Those statistics were reported in a study published by Ball State, “The Changing Characteristics of African-American Adolescent Suicides, 2001-2017.”

Co-authors of the study, published in the Journal of Community Health, were Ball State health science researcher Jagdish Khubchandani and University of Toledo professor emeritus of health education and public health James Price.

“There are far more African-American adolescents attempting suicide than has been recognized in the past,” Price stated in a University of Toledo news release, “and their attempts are starting to be much more lethal.”

The study found that the methods black teens used most often in suicide attempts were firearms and strangulation.

Price said research shows their suicide attempts are “a cry for help. Two-thirds of the kids didn’t really want to die, but they’re using the most lethal form of attempting suicide.”

According to the CDC, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for black adolescents behind homicide.

“Some children have disadvantages early in life, and I wanted to see if disadvantages continued later in life,” Khubchandani said in a story in the Anderson Herald Bulletin. “I think in general this society needs to think about how all these kids will live less than their parents. It just seems like some kind of a disconnect that we have so much good, but some children have to die sooner.”

Khubchandani said the suicide rates for African-American teens appear to be due primarily to family dysfunction and lack of mental health care opportunities. He also said firearms in the home prove to be the greatest risk for these teens and should be the primary focus for intervention.

“Research has shown that 75 percent of inner city primary grade elementary school students know where their parents keep their handguns,” Khubchandani told the Herald Bulletin.

Price said the study’s findings show the importance of getting parents and caregivers to safely secure firearms and ammunition in the home. He also emphasized the need for improved mental health services in urban school districts and pointed out that research has shown that increasing mental health access in urban public schools could reduce suicide attempts by as much as 15 percent.

We trust the findings in this study will sound an alarm to the urgent need to further explore the issue of African-American adolescent suicides and under what circumstances interventions can help.