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5 Reasons Black Suicide Is Rising: Psychiatrist

5 Reasons Suicide Is on the Rise in the Black Community, According to a Psychiatrist

Suicide rates are increasing in Black communities across the country. Patrice Harris, MD, a psychiatrist and former president of the American Medical Association, addresses what might be causing this rise.

The murders of attorney, former Miss USA, activist, and entertainment news correspondent Cheslie Kryst, and up-and-coming DJ and composer Ian King Jr., who was also the son of Academy Award–winning actress Regina King, marked the start of 2022 in the Black community.

The deaths of Kryst and King shocked the Black community as well as fans in general. Kryst was 30 years old, and King had just turned 26 days before his suicide. Both were successful and appeared to have access to the entire world.

Kryst and King are not alone, unfortunately. Their deaths have brought attention to a troubling trend: rising suicide rates among African-Americans. According to research released in May 2021 in JAMA Network Open, suicide rates among Black people in the United States climbed by 30% between 2014 and 2019.

Although the general rate of suicide in the United States declined by 3% in 2020, the rate of suicide among many men of color, notably Black males, climbed during this time, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in November 2021. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the suicide rate among Black men was three times that of Black women between 2011 and 2020.

Suicide was the second greatest cause of death among Black people aged 15 to 24 in 2019, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Suicide is also the second highest cause of mortality for Black kids aged 10 to 19, according to a report released in December 2019 by the Congressional Black Caucus’s Emergency Task Force on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health.
What’s Causing the Increase in Black American Suicides?

Patrice Harris, MD, Everyday Health’s chief health and medical editor and the first Black woman elected president of the American Medical Association, outlines five variables that are likely to contribute to this rise, as well as what may be done to stop the trend.

1. The Pressure to Fit In Increases Due to Social Media

Here's how you can deal with social media pressure | Newsmobile
Here’s how you can deal with social media pressure

According to Dr. Harris, social media has made society highly voyeuristic by giving people practically unlimited access to watch others’ lives online. This can make people feel compelled to comply to a standard, and social media-related pressure is one possible explanation of increased suicides among Black people, according to Harris.

“Unfortunately, over the last decade, we’ve observed a rise in suicide rates among Black people, particularly among youth,” she says. “While there is no single cause for this, it is crucial to remember that we live in an age where the majority of people are linked to social media, which comes with the pressure to project a perfect image. This is especially true for our youth, who may feel enormous pressure to live a specific way or compete with their friends’ appearance.” This kind of pressure, according to Harris, can have a severe impact on one’s feeling of self-worth, identity, and sense of belonging, particularly among young people.
Cyberbullying, which has grown in popularity among preteens and teens as a result of social media, is likely another factor contributing to the rise in suicides in Black communities around the country, according to Harris. Cyberbullying is a widespread form of bullying faced by Black teenagers, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Early Adolescence in September 2021.

Another study, published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry in 2020, found that being a victim of cyberbullying was linked to increased suicide thoughts in both Black and white participants, with texting and social media being the most popular venues for cyberbullying.

2. The stigma associated with mental illness prevents black people from seeking help.

Mental health stigma: Definition, examples, effects, and tips
Mental health stigma:

The stigma associated with mental health concerns and seeking help from mental health specialists, according to Harris, has also contributed to growing suicide rates among Black individuals.

“A person may believe, ‘I’m having these problems, but I’ll keep them to myself because seeking treatment will make me look crazy or weak,'” Harris adds. “There’s a stigma [in the Black community] that having a mental disease is a sign of weakness or a character fault, rather than what it is: a diagnosis that can be treated and managed.”

This stigma has had a variety of negative implications for Black communities, including stopping many Black people from getting care and instead repressing their symptoms. It’s also promoted the myth that Black people don’t suffer from mental illness or commit suicide.

“We construct and portray these pictures so that people feel obligated to live up to them,” Harris continues. Young Black girls, for example, are frequently exposed to the message of the strong Black woman, a persona that promotes expectations of Black women to demonstrate unwavering strength and put others’ needs ahead of their own, discouraging them from practicing self-care and showing vulnerability to loved ones. “As a result, some people may feel they can’t ask for help because they have to be everything to everyone,” Harris says. “When young Black guys seek help, they are frequently told that they are weak.”

3. Treatment is frequently unavailable to black people.

Black people aren't resistant to mental health treatment. We're resistant to framing it as a cure - The Black Youth Project
Black people aren’t resistant to mental health treatment. We’re resistant to framing it as a cure – The Black Youth Project

Untreated mental illness, according to Harris, is another factor contributing to the rise in Black suicide rates. In addition to stigma, there are a variety of reasons why Black people might not receive the mental health care they require, including a lack of access to care.

“When it comes to suicide and mental health in general, there are access issues to consider,” Harris adds, citing a lack of quality medical insurance and education about how to find a local mental health professional as examples. Poverty, a lack of medical insurance, and a lack of culturally aware medical providers exacerbate the situation.

Despite having the same risk of mental illness, Black individuals were more than 7 times more likely than white people to reside in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty and little to no access to mental health care, according to statistics from the American Psychological Association (APA).

Furthermore, according to the APA, about 25% of Black Americans are uninsured, and they are more likely to seek mental health treatment from emergency or primary care physicians, despite the fact that these doctors are not trained to manage mental and behavioral health issues.

Furthermore, there is a dearth of diversity among mental health providers, making it difficult for Black people to get culturally competent mental health care, or healthcare that addresses a patient’s cultural, social, and linguistic needs. According to the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, only 2% of psychiatrists and 4% of psychologists in the United States are Black.

4. Racism and discrimination continue to plague black people.

Racism and Mental Health - HelpGuide.org
Racism and Mental Health – HelpGuide.org

The assassination of George Floyd in 2020 provoked nationwide protests against America’s long-standing bigotry against Black people. Floyd’s death, according to Harris, was a tipping point for rising rates of anxiety and despair due to racism for many Black Americans.

“Certainly, George Floyd’s killing added to the severe fear that many Black people were already facing,” Harris writes, “combined with the everyday repercussions of living with prejudice and racism, and the resulting trauma from those experiences.”

Floyd’s killing is a stark illustration of structural racism, which encompasses public policies, institutions, housing, education, and the legal system, among other things. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Black Americans are more likely to be targeted, profiled, and detained by law enforcement for minor infractions, and their incarceration rate is six times that of white individuals.

Black people are also more prone to endure poverty and homelessness as a result of structural racism. Despite the fact that Black Americans make up only 13% of the population, the Alliance reports that Black individuals account for 39% of homeless people and more than half of homeless families with children. According to the Alliance, one of the main causes of these inequities was a practice known as redlining, which was sponsored by the US government just a few decades ago and inhibited investments such as business and mortgage loans in Black and brown neighborhoods.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, all of these diverse varieties of racism and discrimination have had a substantial negative influence on mental health, causing stress and trauma to Black individuals on the receiving end (NAMI). Some mental health professionals may even be contributing to the problem: Providers may “categorize mental illness in the Black community as [someone] having disruptive behaviors rather than someone who is suffering a health problem and needs care,” according to Harris, because of racist and discriminatory ideas, whether implicit (unconscious) or explicit. These mental health issues can be exacerbated by racism, a lack of culturally appropriate training among medical practitioners, and a general lack of access to mental health therapy.

5. Many black people are subjected to violence on a regular basis.

Police killings and Black mental health | Penn Today
Police killings and Black mental health | Penn Today

Despite the fact that not all Black people live in impoverished or physically unsafe surroundings as a result of socioeconomic concerns such structural racism, data reveals that Black people are exposed to violence at a higher rate than white people, according to Mental Health America.

Continued exposure to violence, like racism, may contribute to rising suicide rates among Black people. “Another facet of trauma that may lead to greater suicide rates among Black individuals is seeing violence and living in places with increased amounts of violent crimes,” adds Harris.

Violence and accumulative trauma have been demonstrated to have negative consequences in numerous studies. According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), exposure to violence can significantly impact a child’s psychological, emotional, and physical development.

Children who are exposed to violence are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, have school-related problems, develop depression or other mental health concerns, act aggressively, and commit crimes as adults than children who are not exposed to violence, according to the NIJ.
In conclusion

According to Harris, the rising incidence of Black suicides is likely complex, and further research is needed to establish exactly what is causing these rates. According to the research we have, adverse impacts associated with social media use, racism, mental health stigma, and exposure to violence and accumulative trauma all played a part.

Reframing how mental health concerns are viewed and handled in Black communities, combating potential prejudice among mental health providers, and tackling mental health stigma among Black people are all important measures, according to Harris.

Combating mental health difficulties in the Black community, according to Harris, requires a collaborative effort by persons with mental health issues, their loved ones, and medical professionals, as well as eliminating the racist systems that contribute to many of these mental health disorders.

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