One study of high school students, published in September, found that the Black teenagers surveyed were more likely than the white teenagers to have attempted suicide without first having suicidal thoughts or plans. Because suicide screening questionnaires typically ask whether people are having suicidal thoughts or have made plans to hurt themselves, the authors speculated that the questionnaires might fail to identify some Black youths who are at risk of suicide, or that there could be additional factors that might indicate a need for intervention.
More research is needed, but a government study conducted last year suggested that Black children and adolescents who died by suicide were more likely than white youths to have experienced a crisis in the two weeks before they died. They were also more likely to have had a family relationship problem, argument or conflict, or a history of suicide attempts.
Suicide and mental illness are often thought of as a “white phenomenon,” said Michael A. Lindsey, the executive director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University, who studies the mental health of Black adolescents.
Looking at the raw numbers, it’s easy to understand why. White deaths by suicide far outnumber those of Black people. But when taking into account youth suicide rates — the number of suicides per 100,000 individuals under age 25 — a different picture emerges.
“I think the statistics are shocking,” said Dr. Lindsey, who was the first to document trends in rising suicide attempts among Black adolescents.
A 2018 study found that while the suicide rate of Black children 5 to 12 was low, it was nearly twice that of white children in the same age group. In one of the most recent examples, a 10-year-old Black girl with autism died by suicide in Utah in early November. Her parents said she had been subjected to racist bullying by her classmates.
Among teenagers and young adults, suicide rates remain highest among whites, Native Americans and Alaska Natives. But while the suicide rate has recently declined among those groups, it has continued to rise among Black youths. From 2013 to 2019 the suicide rate of Black boys and men 15 to 24 years old rose by 47 percent, and by 59 percent for Black girls and women of the same age.
Adolescents of color who identify as L.G.B.T.Q. may be especially at risk of a suicide attempt, according to a national survey conducted by the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention group for L.G.B.T.Q. youth.
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