Identifying Suicide Risk In Black Youth To Prevent Harm

African American boySeptember is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which helps to promote awareness around suicide, highlight resources on prevention, and identify ways to talk more openly about suicide to help others decrease risk. Suicide is a serious mental health concern. It often occurs along with symptoms of depression which can be treated with therapy.

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However, many are reluctant to seek professional help for mental health issues, especially in the Black community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death among Black youth. Therefore, it is important that we identify risk early to prevent actual suicide attempts.

Risk Factors of Suicide

An article published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (Horwitz, Czyz, & King, 2015) looked at suicide attempts in teens and young adults. The study identified specific risk factors for engaging in suicidal behaviors. According to the study by Horwitz and his co-authors increased risk of suicide was related to socioeconomic status, severity of suicidal thoughts, past history of suicide attempt, and a history of self-injurious behavior (e.g., cutting). Although these signs help to identify risk suicide is very difficult to predict.

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Some experts have noted that ethnic differences exist in how suicide behaviors are presented. During the 2015 Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) Convention in Las Vegas, NV – Dr. Krystal Cook Simmons, Ph.D. (Clinical Associate Professor at Texas A&M University) stated that Black youth may not exhibit some of the classic symptoms we might expect among those who are at risk of engaging in suicide. For example, Dr. Simmons identified the following behaviors among Black youth:

  • Less likely to report suicidal ideation (e.g., thoughts of wanting to die)
  • Less likely to express hopelessness (e.g., feeling things will never get better)
  • Often engage in active coping (e.g., doing physical activity)