By Aneesha Perkins, MA, LPC
Historically, suicide rates among the Black community have been lower than in other populations. However, in recent years, Black youth have been heavily impacted by rising rates of suicide in communities across the nation. For instance, the rate of suicide is double for Black children under the age of 12 compared to White children (O’Reilly & Adams, 2021). September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which offers a great opportunity to raise visibility around this critical social issue impacting our youth.
Looking for ways to support the young people in your life? Check out these 3 tips to foster connection and affirm our youth:
1. Deepen Family Engagement- Whether through blood or shared love, the Black family continues to be an essential source of laughter, warmth, and connection, even during hard times. Isolation is a feeling that may surface in the face of suicidal thoughts, and drawing closer to family can serve as a preventative measure to combat feelings of loneliness and worthlessness. If you notice that one of your family members is isolating, find ways to foster connections. Invite them to a smoothie bar, coffee shop, or a place serving their favorite beverage. If they can tolerate a larger event, ask if they're open to a family gathering or outing focused on joy such as a games night. You can increase their engagement by involving them in the planning process and encouraging them to help select the games.
To the youth: Dear Youth, we are family and I desire to deepen our bond by spending more quality time with you. You are not alone in your battles and struggles and you don’t have to face them alone. I want to get to know you better and be active in your life. Please tell me how I can reach you best, what words you need to hear more of, and what specific support you need. I am your family, and I care about your well-being.
2. Connect Through Community – There is nothing more powerful than human connection. Community can feel just like family, especially when there is limited or decreased family presence/involvement. Depression is a mental health condition that often causes individuals to withdraw from friends and family, lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, and feel a sense of worthlessness and hopeless – these factors can lead people to feel disconnected and suicidal. If you suspect that someone in your life appears hopeless, isolated, and suicidal – explore their previous interests and search for community groups that focus on their interests – this can improve their social skills and help them to build new relationships. Community events can be centered on their interests (i.e., art, music) or hobbies (i.e., sports, cooking). If they seem hesitant to participate, offer to accompany them to make it easier for them to engage.
To the youth: Dear Youth, there is a community out there that was created just for you. A community that sees you, hears you, and shares your interests. Some people do not share the same blood as you, yet they can be considered family. Take a chance at finding a community that can be your support system. Create your very own community, one that can help you feel better.
3. Meet Them Where They Are – Navigating through one’s teenage years and young adulthood can be challenging, fun, scary, and even frustrating. As guardians, caregivers, family, or friends, it can feel natural to provide direction or guidance around the best ways to work through their problems. Yet, there is power in standing with them in the moment. While this may be hard for you to do, it can convey to the young person that you trust their ability to work things out and that you will be there when they need someone to lean on.The next time you suspect your youth is struggling and maybe suicidal, check in with them. Let them know you see that they are struggling and that you are available to support them. You can ask what struggles impact them the most at school or home? Rather than providing a solution, take some time to validate their feelings and empathize with their experiences.
To the youth: Dear Youth, I can’t imagine what’s happening in your world right now, and while I am not in your shoes, I want to know more about your world so that I can better support you. I care about the issues that seem small and the problems that feel incredibly overwhelming to you. I don’t want to offer any solutions now. Instead, I want to stand in it with you. I’ll take your hand and ask that you walk me into your world. I won’t pass judgment.What you show me will not scare me away or make me care about you any less. I want to meet you exactly where you are at. Will you share your world with me?
As the world in which we live continues to change for our Black youth, it is vital that we continue to equip ourselves with effective strategies that can deepen our connections with them in order to combat these alarming suicide rates. We want our youth to know that they matter and that we love them, see them, hear them, and value them. We want them to know, loud and clear, that they are not alone.
For additional support, check out these crisis resources:
Crisis Hotline: Dial 9-8-8 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Congressional Black Caucus- Ring the Alarm: The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in the U.S.
InnoPsych x Samaritans Suicide Prevention Training
InnoPsych crisis resource page: www.InnoPsych.com/resources
Mental Health America: Mental health screening tools
National Institute of Health: Addressing the Crisis of Black Youth Suicide.
PBS Documentary: Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness
Samaritan’s Inc: www.samaritanshope.org
The Trevor Project: Suicide Line for LGBTQ Youth: (866) 488-7386
Riley, O’Reilly, L., & Adams, S. (2021). Addressing Suicide Among Black Youths: A Call to
Action Within and Outside Clinical Practice. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 175(9), 895–897. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.1693