A couple of suicides by public figures have added to the conversation about young, Black Americans and mental health.

In January, actress Regina King’s son, Ian Alexander Jr., died by suicide at the age of 26. Prior to his death he labeled social media as “unhealthy.” And said, “I don’t think Instagram is healthy for me.”

This past weekend, Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst, 30, died after jumping from a high-rise apartment complex in New York. On Instagram, the Miss Universe Organization said that Kryst was “one of the brightest, warmest, and most kind people we have ever had the privilege of knowing, and she lit up every room she entered. Our entire community mourns her loss, and our thoughts and prayers are with her family during this difficult time.”

While suicide rates have decreased among Americans overall, Black suicide rates have gone in the opposite direction. According to the Suicide Prevention Resources Center, “At 7.4 per 100,000, the age-adjusted suicide rate for Black populations in 2019 was over half the overall U.S. suicide rate of 13.2 per 100,000.”

SPRC stats also showed that young adulthood suicide is the highest among young Black Americans. From 2010 to 2019, between the ages of 25 and 34, Black suicide rates were just over 10 per 100,000. Among Black populations, suicide rates peak during adolescence and young adulthood, then decline.

Michael Lindsey was recently named the dean of New York University’s Silver School of Social Work. He said that while the pandemic may not have helped, there still needs to be a focus on mental health and suicides among young Black Americans particularly.

“It’s important for the social work profession to meet this moment of urgent need, especially in vulnerable communities who have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic,” said Lindsey. “My own research into youth mental health has focused my awareness on how our young Black children and teens, in particular, are affected. For instance, at McSilver we saw self-reported suicide attempt rates rising by 73% in Black adolescents between 1991 and 2017, and later research shows that disturbing trend continuing. There are many reasons for this trend, but the pandemic has only hastened the urgency to act.”

A Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry article published last September, using information from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that between
1991 and 2017 more than 1,800 Black children between the ages of 5 and 17 died by suicide.

And current suicide rates aren’t equally distributed by gender. According to the Pew Research Center, between 2009 and 2019, Black suicides rates have increased among Black women and Black men 65% and 9% respectively.

Dr. Jeff Gardere told the AmNews that there are still barriers to discussing mental health in the Black community and that more discussion leads to weaker barriers.

“We’ve learned that success by itself does not define happiness and that it is important to have a proper work-life balance, number one,” said Gardere. “And number two, we still need to continue to smash the stigma by discussing mental illness, and we need to make psychology and counseling much more accessible.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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