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  • While suicide attempts decreased among teen girls overall, they increased among Black teen girls.

    While suicide attempts decreased among teen girls overall, they increased among Black teen girls. | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 October 2019
Opinion

Nearly 200,000 high school students collected between 1991 and 2017.

Suicide attempts are rising among Black teens in the United States even as they fall among youth from other racial and ethnic groups, a study published Monday found.

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To reach this conclusion, researchers examined nationwide survey data from nearly 200,000 high school students collected between 1991 and 2017.

While the overall proportion of teens reporting suicidal thoughts or plans declined for all racial and ethnic groups during the study period, the proportion of Black boys attempting suicide climbed by four percent and the proportion of Black girls attempting suicide rose by two percent.

"Whatever is happening to result in a downward trend among teens in the general population is missing Black teens," said Michael Lindsey, lead author of the study and executive director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University.

Overall, 7.9 percent of teens attempted suicide during the study, and 2.5 percent sustained injuries as a result. Almost one in five teens reported suicidal thoughts and 14.7 percent planned a suicide, researchers report in Pediatrics.

Self-reported suicide attempts rose in Black teenagers, even as they fell or followed no significant pattern in white, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native teenagers.

More research is needed to determine why traditional precursors to suicide attempts like thinking about or planning a suicide are decreasing while actual attempts are going up, Lindsey said.

The current study can't explain why suicide attempts and injuries are rising among only certain groups of youth, but higher levels of poverty and other structural social economic factors are likely to play a role.

"We believe that it's important for parents, mental health service providers and school personnel to learn the signs of depression in Black youth," the expert said.

Teens are increasingly in danger for suicide and from related mental health problems such as depression, Dr. Benjamin Shain of NorthShore University HealthSystem in Deerfield, Illinois and the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine said.

Parents should keep an eye out for evidence of depression, severe mood changes, substance misuse or suicidal thoughts or behaviors, Shain advised.

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