Identifying Suicide Risk in Black Youth
Suicide is a serious mental health concern. It often occurs along with symptoms of depression which can be treated with therapy. 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.
Common Signs of Depression
Suicide Warning Signs
Helping Your Child Cope with Depression
Below are a few suggestions for helping your teenager and family cope with depression. These are minor coping strategies and may not be specific to your child’s individual needs. Please consider seeking a professional counselor or psychologist in your area for continued treatment and monitoring.
If you have family members who have these behaviors it is important to take it seriously and help them get professional help.
Visit the Therapy for Black Kids website for possible referral sources.
Horwitz, A. G., Czyz, E. K., & King, C. A. (2015). Predicting future suicide attempts among adolescent and emerging adult psychiatric emergency patients. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 44(5), 751-761.
Note: A version of this post was authored by Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D. for Psychology Today.
Tips on seeking therapy for Kids
It’s important to keep in mind that sadness and depression are not the same. While we all may become sad at some point in life, depression is a mental health condition. Common symptoms of depression may include sadness for an extended period of time, irritability, sleep difficulties, lack of appetite, and problems concentrating. Given the recent increased rates of suicide among Black youth, it is important to monitor for symptoms of depression in your child. A recent study reported that Black children between ages 5 to 12 had a suicide rate approximately two times higher than their same-aged white peers (Bridge, Horowitz, Fontanella, et al., 2018). During this stressful time period, it is important to look out for warning signs and seek help from a mental health provider to help address concerns with depression or other mental health difficulties. Many providers are offering services via teletherapy or online therapy.
The National Institute of Mental Health offers these questions to ask your child to help determine whether they may be experiencing depression:
Warning Signs for Parents to Seek Professional Help
Parents have the responsibility to protect their children from all harm. Physical pains are often easier to recognize and treat than mental disorders. Still, it is sometimes challenging to identify when a child is having emotional or behavioral problems at home, school, or with their friends. These related emotional behaviors often leave parents feeling confused and unsure about how to best support their child.
In addition to concerns about depression, research suggests that nearly one in six children between the ages of 6-17 is affected by an emotional or behavioral disorder (Whitney & Peterson, 2019). As a parent, you may recognize that something is not right with your child but might have challenges in understanding the mental health signs or knowing what to do next. Because children and teens are still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, their mental health symptoms are often behavioral. Each mental health concern has its own specific symptoms, but common symptoms in children and teens may include the following:
By observing these behaviors and listening to your parental instincts, you can voice your concerns and begin the journey of finding and advocating for the professional help your child may need.
Bridge, J. A., Horowitz, L. M., Fontanella, C. A., Sheftall, A. H., Greenhouse, J., Kelleher, K. J., & Campo, J. V. (2018). Age-related racial disparity in suicide rates among US youths from 2001 through 2015. JAMA Pediatrics, 172(7), 697-699.
National Institute of Mental Health (2020). Teen Depression. Retrieved March 25, 2020 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teen-depression/index.shtml.
Turner (2019). Mental Health Among African Americans: Innovations in Research and Practice. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing.
Whitney, D.G., Peterson, M.D. (2019). US National and State-Level Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders and Disparities of Mental Health Care Use in Children. JAMA Pediatrics, 173(4):389–391.
Originally written by Dr. Erlanger Turner and Dr. Thomas Vance for Successful Black Parenting
This blog is maintained by Therapy for Black Kids.