Mental Health Awareness Month: Let’s Talk Suicide Rates
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan
Trigger warning for suicide statistics, ACE scores, physical and sexual violence, and mention of addiction and mental illness. YouTube video and Soundcloud audio available.
According to Mira Kelley (2014), “The World Health Organization states that, in some countries, suicide is among the top three leading causes of death for those 15–44 years of age. It estimates that globally there are between 10–20 million suicide attempts every year” (p. 111). Speaking specifically about the United States, Kelley identifies that “The 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that there were 8.3 million adults in the US alone who had serious thoughts of committing suicide that year. Another 2.3 million had made plans to commit suicide, and 1.1 million had actually attempted it.” (2014, p. 111)
I want to note here that the language is dated, and the term death by suicide is preferable to commit suicide for the very reason that suicide is no longer a criminal offense, though it once used to be.
In any case, these statistics point to larger issues among the general population. In America, suicide rates for white adolescents and young adults outnumber those of Black people, although this is a bit of a misnomer given that white people outnumber Black people in the US. It is also important to note that suicide rates for white adolescents have continued to drop while they have only increased among Black youth (Caron, 2021).
In the United States, Black children are also more likely than white children to face adverse childhood experiences, at least according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, Laura Starecheski writing for NPR, shares that “An ACE score is a tally of different types of abuse, neglect, and other hallmarks of a rough childhood. The rougher your childhood, the higher your score is likely to be and the higher your risk for later health problems. The ACE test asks questions like, “before your 18th birthday, did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? Or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
The questions do get heavier and more real for some of us.
They ask about specific types of physical violence. Like being pushed, slapped, grabbed, getting hit to the point of injury, marks, and bruises, or having things thrown at you. Some questions pertain to sexual harassment and assault, like adults fondling or touching your body in sexual ways. Not having adequate basic necessities also comes up, which touches on class, race, or other intersectional challenges, like addiction and mental illness in the home.
There are 10 questions altogether or at least the quiz that I took online. My ACE score is typically 8 or 7, depending on how I choose to approach 1 of the questions. But 7 to 8 out of 10 is fairly high. And as studies show, fairly common for most Black children to have high ACE scores later in life. This runs the risk of possible mental health and addiction-related challenges in our adult life.
Higher ACE scores have resulted in higher suicide rates among Black boys than girls, though Christina Caron (2021) noted that Black girls are more likely than Black boys to receive a diagnosis of depression and anxiety and that suicide rates among Black girls have increased by 6.6% each year between 2003 and 2017, more than twice the increase of Black boys (see also Moyer, 2021).
Self-reported suicide attempt rates among Black adolescents rose by 80% between 1991 and 2019, which was untrue for other demographics (Caron, 2021). Additionally, a 2018 study showed that Black children between the ages of 5 and 10 were twice as likely to die by suicide as white children of the same age (Caron, 2021; Moyer, 2021). Furthermore, between 2013 and 2019, the suicide rate for Black boys and men between the ages of 15 and 24 rose by 47%; for Black girls and women of the same age group, there was a 59% increase (Caron, 2021). Given that Black people in the United States make up only 13 percent of the population, these statistics are staggering.
In my next post, I ask, with these horrific rates, why are we still allowing stigma and discrimination to silence us from continuing to have these conversations in ways that draw compassion and empathy for survivors, while also moving the needle with policies that support safer communities for all. Feel free to like, subscribe, and share. Donate on PayPal if you’re able to. I appreciate any and all support. Thank you for listening.
Until next time, in solidarity.
Caron, Christina. (2021). Why Are More Black Kids Suicidal? A Search for Answers. New York
Kelley, Mira. (2014). Beyond Past Lives: What Parallel Realities Can Teach Us About
Relationships, Healing, and Transformation. Hay House: Carlsbad, California.
Moyer, Melinda Wenner. (2021). Suicide Rates Rise in a Generation of Black Youth. Scientific
American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/suicide-rates-rise-in-a-generation- of-black-youth/