One’s death is an inevitable destiny; however, there are some that choose to take the time of this fate into their own hands. This choice is called suicide, and sadly, it is becoming more commonplace in the Black community, specifically among Black youth. While suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, for Black Americans between the ages of 15 and 24, its 3rd.
According to a 2015 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate for Black children between the ages of 5 and 11 have nearly tripled in the last 25 years. Most are suicide by hanging. On the other hand, the rate among white children has declined.
Why is this? What is being done about it? How can the sudden increase be reversed?
Sadly, there is an abysmal shortage of Black doctors to address Black communities and to help build trust between them and the healthcare system so that they take advantage of health services. Black Americans have a daunting history with health professionals, including the deplorable Tuskegee study which began in the 1930s that used Black men with untreated syphilis for research under the guise of free healthcare. This travesty went on for four decades.
Then there is Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cancer cells were taken from her unbeknownst to her family. These cells ultimately became the HeLa cell line, which is arguably the most essential cell line in medical research. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on.
Fast-forward to present time, and there are numerous reports regarding unconscious racism among doctors. Black doctors are sorely needed to improve comfort levels within the Black community and their ability to be receptive to the many resources that are indeed available.
But the lack of Black doctors is just one hurdle, there are more. Another is finances. Say that a Black family can get past the concerning history of Blacks being taken advantage of by the American healthcare system. What about the steep costs? In most cases, they cannot be ignored. The rate of uninsured Black Americans in comparison to that of White Americans is atrocious.
What’s more is well over half of Blacks live in southern states which have failed to expand their Medicaid programs in a way that allows for those who are below the poverty line to take advantage of them. So, the problem is not getting parents to want the recommended medication for their child, but rather getting parents in the position to pay for it? If a parent is forced to choose between medication for a mental condition or putting food on the table, in most cases the former is ignored.
Church and recreation centers can be bases for medical health professionals to provide free training and services, but they will not solve all the problems. The first line of defense against the Black Youth suicide epidemic will have to be, you guessed it: Black parents.
There are several things Black parents can do, including forming good, healthy relationships with their children, which require time—quality time. Providing a safe home environment, that is comforting for children and helps them feel stable, and well taken care of is of extreme importance.
Listen, listen, listen. Teenage years can be trying for some parents, and it seems quite often like teenagers may say a lot, but are severely lacking substance. Take a deeper listen. Hear those covert messages, and do not let them go unchecked. And when they are checked, aim to be supportive, not intrusive. Sure, there might be a little backlash for being a good parent. No deed goes unpunished, right? But if there is some resistance, be sure that the children understand the healthiest way to express their emotions. Tell them it’s not good to hide and bottle them up. Encourage them to show their feelings of happiness or sadness. The expression of positive and negative emotions is only human. At the same time, encourage them to be mindful of their emotions, and do not allow them so much power that control is lost which is ultimately not good for anyone.
Other things parents can do is educate themselves on suicidal behaviors which will help with early detection. Behaviors such as a persistent depressive mood or obsessive patterns that may involve cleanliness or their eating; things that are negatively affecting their everyday life, must be addressed. Being vigilant about changes in behavior can make all the difference.
Then of course, when in doubt, consult with a healthcare professional. Sure, there are stigmas in the Black community around behavioral and mental health. No one wants to be called “crazy.” However, being called crazy is a small price to pay in exchange for life. Whoever is using the term crazy probably has behavioral and mental issues needing to be addressed themselves so totally ignore it. Improving the state of our minds is something that we should all aspire to. This must be the goal for the Black community, especially because the very fate of Black youth depends on it.