Study: Suicide Rates Rising Rapidly Among African American Teens

TOLEDO, Ohio — Suicide rates among young African Americans have risen dramatically in recent years, according to the findings from an alarming large-scale study out of the University of Toledo.

Researchers say the study suggests a need for better mental health services in urban school districts and improved firearm safety in the home. Such attention and changes, they believe, could save lives.

“There are far more African American adolescents attempting suicide than has been recognized in the past, and their attempts are starting to be much more lethal,” says co-author Dr. James Price, a  professor emeritus of health education and public health at the university, in a media release.

The study revealed that the rate of suicide deaths among black males ages 13 to 19 spiked 60% between 2001 and 2017. For African American females in the same age group, the uptick was even more startling: a staggering 182% increase over the same time period.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for African Americans between 13 and 19 years of age behind homicide. The methods black youth use in suicide attempts are the most lethal on average.

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Dr. Price and his team found that 52% of the 560 males in the study who killed themselves between 2015 and 2017 used a firearm. The fatality rate for using firearms for a suicide attempt is nearly 90%. Meanwhile, 34% of the same group attempted suicide by strangulation or suffocation, which carries a fatality rate of about 60%.

Of the 204 females who died by suicide between 2015 and 2017, 56% attempted strangulation or suffocation and 21% used firearms.

“When we look at research with these adolescents, we find that they report their attempt to suicide is 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,” says Price. “If you can have those lethal forms of suicide inaccessible to them, then that period of crisis and not seeing the irreversibility of this impulsive decision will pass. And with adequate mental health services available to young people, you may actually reduce the chance they’ll do that act again.”

The study is published in the Journal of Community Health.

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