Yes, Black Teens and Young Adults Die by Suicide, Too

Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor 



On March 31, Netflix released its series adaptation of Jay Asher’s young adult novel, 13 Reasons Why. Like it or not, the topic of suicide is moving into the mainstream. And it’s about time.
The much-talked about show tells the story of high school student Hannah who dies by suicide and answers the question that haunts almost every family member, friend or coworker in the aftermath of real-life suicides: why? Viewers learn as the narrative unfolds that there are 13 people whom Hannah considers in some way responsible or contributing to her decision. One reason relates to rumors started about her—bolstered by misleading photos—by a classmate with whom Hannah has a brief physical encounter. She is humiliated by the damage to her reputation and the guy’s abandonment of her. That explanation seems straightforward but as research demonstrates, very little is that simple when it comes to suicide. It is precipitated by complex and interrelated circumstances in a person’s life. For Black youth and young adults that complexity is shaped by powerful societal realities that traumatize still-developing psyches and bring hopelessness and despair. Hannah is white, and her circle only included two African American teens, but the reality is that black adolescents and young adults die by suicide also, more than is commonly believed.

In the audio segment below, listen to a brief discussion of recent data on suicide among black youth 10-24 years old, as well as thoughts to put the data into perspective.

Clearly, suicide is a problem among black youth, too. Individuals, families, communities, and organizations need accessible, culturally competent and often confidential resources to help people at risk for suicide, and those recovering from an attempt. Often family and friends feel powerless because they don’t know what signs to look for or how to assess what they do observe. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention identifies these warning signs that someone you know might be at risk for suicide:

What They Might Talk About                            How They Might Feel
Having no reason to live                                         Depressed
Being a burden to those around them                     Anxious
Feeling trapped                                                       Humiliated/Shamed
Ending their life                                                      Irritable/Enraged

What They Might Do

Excessive drinking/drugs                        Contacting people to say goodbye
Reckless conduct                                     Behaving aggressively
Isolate themselves/withdraw

Another way in which people feel at a loss when it comes to suicide is not knowing who in their life and social circles might be at risk. No one wants to constantly scrutinize their friends and family members, and teenagers and young adults can be especially challenging to read sometimes. Knowing proven risk factors combined with understanding your sons and daughters baseline personalities can save lives. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and other organizations say to be on the lookout for these evidence-based risk factors:

Risk Factors Related to Health

Having a mental health condition like depression, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder
Alcohol or drug addiction
Having a chronic health condition like HIV, cancer, diabetes, sickle cell anemia

Risk Factors Related to External Circumstances in Life

Death of a close friend or family
Prolonged stress from things like harassment, bullying, relationship problems, unemployment
Exposure to another person’s suicide

There are many organizational and educational resources for support. 

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Comprehensive resources for those who have lost someone to suicide, suicide attempt survivors, these who are concerned for someone they know, and advocates. AFSP brings awareness training to communities through programs like Talk Saves Lives ™ and suicide bereavement support group facilitator training. The site also has general statistics about suicide rates.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Provides training and materials support for professionals and practitioners who serve populations at-risk for suicide. 

Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-TALK (8255)

A national network of local crisis centers and a 24/7 phone and online chat service to assist people trying to help a friend through a crisis or is facing a crisis themselves. 

ReachOut USA

The USA-based counterpart to Inspire Foundation/ReachOut Australia. Operates an online prevention and intervention resource for teens and young adults. Includes support forums and a crisis text line and loads of information, including a section on racism and mental health.

The Trevor Project

A crisis intervention and suicide Prevention Resource for LGBTQ youth and young adults, including The Trevor Lifeline 1-866-488-7386. 

If you or someone you know needs information or someone to talk to, please go to these websites, call the crisis help lines, or chat online with someone trained to help. Live life. Save life.