Suicide deaths in the Black community have been on the rise since before the COVID-19 pandemic started — and unfortunately, Black children and adults are still dying at alarming rates.
This year alone, we mourned the loss of former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, Moses Moseley who starred in the “Walking Dead,” and Ian Alexander Jr., the son of actress and director Regina King.
And most recently, the public grieved Raven K. Jackson, a fitness influencer and girlfriend of rapper 600 Breezy.
Dr. Rheeda Walker, a clinical psychologist who researches suicide prevention among ethnic minorities, says a person might resort to suicide because they’ve experienced “overwhelming emotional pain and loss, and they don’t anticipate that things will change in their lives.”
For adults, the loss of a relationship or job can trigger suicidal ideations, but youth are not immune to thoughts about death.
“One of the things that we’ve seen a lot with vulnerable children is being bullied. And obviously, [being] bullied for something that they have no control over — what they might look like or how they act or behave. And they don’t feel like they have any friends or any meaningful connections, so they feel kind of lost,” Walker told Word In Black in a phone interview.
Bullying is a common experience in U.S. grade schools. According to Yale University, victims of bullying are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.
2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that suicide was the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-14 and the third leading cause for youth ages 15-24.
For Black children ages five to 12, a 2018 report found them to be committing suicide about twice as much as white children.
When a child is navigating suicidal ideations, knowing they’re cared for by at least one person could potentially stop the child from taking their life.
“Maybe there’s another family member outside the home that the child can connect to,” she says. “Maybe it’s a grandparent, maybe it’s their auntie or their play cousins that they have a strong sense of connection to… that’s going to buffer what they’re experiencing.”
Another way to help prevent suicide among children is to pay attention to shifts in behavior.
“Maybe a child who used to be very happy-go-lucky all of a sudden starts to seem more anxious or they start to seem more withdrawn and not really wanting to be bothered, or maybe they had friends they used to play with and they just don’t even want to play,” Walker says.
Among adults, Black women are more likely to attempt suicide, while Black men are more likely to die from it. For example, in 2018, Black men were four times more likely than Black women to commit suicide.
Walker says when it comes to prevention among adults, mood changes are also a tell-tell sign. However, it can be harder to spot among adults because they’re more sophisticated at hiding emotions than kids.
Everyday life experiences factor into a person’s consideration of suicide. Homelessness, family dysfunction, social isolation, and poor coping skills can put someone at greater risk.
Racial inequality can also cause someone to have suicidal thoughts.
“We’ve engaged some research in our lab to show that even beyond typical kinds of stressors, when you add on racism, which exists across multiple domains of our society, that contributes to people thinking about suicide and taking their own lives,” Walker says.
For someone who’s struggling with suicidal ideations, Walker encourages that person to first reach out to a loved one and share what they’re going through or call the suicide lifeline.
She says when a person is thinking about suicide, they’re in a mental health crisis and considering making a permanent decision because they’re overwhelmed.
“If they can do something to shift their perspective, you know, talking to a loved one, writing in a journal, going outside for a walk…whatever the things are that allows them to be able to calm down so that they can be able to get into a frame of mind where they can connect with others or better problem solve for themselves.”
If you’re feeling suicidal or concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting themself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is staffed by trained counselors.