Rise in suicide attempts sparks call to action
by Salvatore Isola
Oct 23, 2019 | 957 views | 0 0 comments | 78 78 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On the heels of a new report that shows black adolescents are attempting to take their lives at higher rates, Borough President Eric Adams is calling for youth-led solutions.

“We have a crisis, and the crisis cannot continue,” Adams said.

The report, published by the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University, tracked high school students’ behavior nationwide between 1991 and 2017.

Covering 200,000 students, the report indicated that suicide attempt rates among black high schoolers are skyrocketing.

For both black male and female teenagers, suicide attempts have increased by 73 percent, while all other racial and ethnic groups are seeing steady decreases. During the same period, the attempt rates among white teenagers dropped 7.5 percent.

The issue affects young black women the most, with suicide attempts increasing most rapidly among this group.

In 2017, suicide was the third-leading cause of death for African American youth aged 15 to 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report gave possible reasons for the findings, including skepticism towards seeking treatment for mental health and social factors, like racial discrimination, poverty, and adverse childhood experiences.

Dr. Michael Lindsey, executive director of the McSilver Institute, said these factors “have been disproportionately experienced by black adolescents.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said he has observed black girls in schools being disciplined six times the rate of their white counterparts. He emphasized that this has adverse effects on their mental health.

“Mental health is not an issue that can wait until adulthood,” Williams said. “We need to be providing resources and breaking down the stigma from an early age.”

One of the most troubling aspects for Adams has been the lack of attention given to the subject.

“We are reluctant and slow to identify a horrific incident that impacts black and brown people,” Adams said. “If we were talking about children from the suburban or rich or affluent communities, we would have witnessed a national response.”

The Borough President called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to create a black youth suicide task force. Legislation authorizing the task force has been passed by the State Senate and Assembly and is waiting on the governor’s signature.

In addition, Adams announced a contest for the most innovative idea for a public service announcement related to suicide prevention that comes with a $20,000 prize.

“This needs to come from the population that's here,” Adams said. “They know what to say and how to say it.”

Bryanna Bonner, a senior at Bedford Academy High School, said pressures at home are a primary reason for the increase.

“The problem isn't really that the public doesn't care, it's that the culture doesn't care,” Bonner said. “The stigma in black communities is that you're supposed to be strong in order to help your culture. But will the culture help you if you continue to help them? That’s the real problem.”

She said that students deserve a place at the table when discussing mental health for adolescents, since most discussions on the subject occur among adults who are no longer subjected to the same pressures.

“Teens who are watching this know that other people can relate to them, and other people are there for help if they ever want to talk about something,” Bonner said.
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