Mon. Sep 25th, 2023

‘A growing crisis’: Suicide rates rising among Black youth

By Brandon Richard

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – Experts say the recent suicide death of a Hollywood movie star Regina King’s son highlights a problem too often ignored.

The suicide death rate among Black youth is increasing faster than any other racial or ethnic group.

That was the major finding of a 2019 task force report by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which looked into what experts call “a growing crisis.”

“There’s still a lot of stigma that’s around the word ‘mental health,’” said Will Voss, the chief operations officer of Tennessee Voices, a nonprofit mental health agency that provides advocacy and support.

He says it can be difficult for Black people struggling with mental health issues to seek help.

“I think a lot of the stigma comes from upbringing,” said Voss. “We’re hardwired. You know, you talk about things at home. You don’t talk about this in the community.”

The recent suicide death of actress Regina King’s only son is bringing renewed attention to mental health, especially among young Black people.

“I think it can be a learning moment,” said Voss. “It doesn’t matter your background. It doesn’t discriminate. And even as someone at a young age as Regina King’s son, you never know what someone is going through.”

Self-reported suicide attempts among Black youth increased by more than 70% over the last 25 years, according to the CBC task force report.

“This is while self-reported suicidal thoughts and plans have decreased, pointing to a need to examine why they may be going straight to attempts. Meanwhile, Black adolescents are significantly less likely to receive care for depression—a major risk factor for suicide—with pervasive structural inequities, social determinants of health, stigma, and mistrust of healthcare providers creating daunting barriers to treatment,” the report said.

The latest publicly available data from the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) shows while more whites commit suicide, the rate of Black Tennesseans committing suicide is growing much faster, increasing 78% from 2014 to 2018.

Among Black youth in Shelby County, the suicide rate spiked 108% from 2015 to 2018, according to TDH data.

Dr. Crystal DeBerry is a licensed clinical social worker who owns DeNovo Clinical Strategies in Memphis.

She says social media can also be detrimental to mental health.

“The trauma that Black people go through, it’s right there in our face,” said DeBerry.

But it’s not all bad news.

DeBerry says in the last couple of years since the pandemic started, she is starting to see more people contact her office for treatment.

“And I always tell my young adults when they first start treatment, this is your space,” said DeBerry. “Whatever you come in and you want to talk about, if it’s important to you, it’s important to us.”

She says mood swings, a change in diet, or sleeping patterns are some signs for parents and loved ones to watch for.

She says if a child or young adult asks for help, try to find them professional help.

“Don’t shut them down,” she said.

Many organizations, including Tennessee Voices, offer free or low-cost therapy.

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