SARA L. MANEWITH, AM, DIRECTOR, RESPONSE FOR TEENS
The Center for Disease Control reports that rates of suicide have increased by 50% for young people ages 10 – 24 years old; for Black adolescents, the rates are particularly alarming – a 75% increase between 1991 and 2017.
A recent NPR report focused on the reasons why young Black people may be experiencing such high rates of suicide attempts. Factors that make Black youngsters more vulnerable include racism, experiencing unequal treatment, stresses around police violence, and how COVID has hit their communities so hard. However, the report also focused on things that JCFS Response for Teens knows to be true for all young people.
Many children, young adults and families experience mental health challenges and attempted or completed suicides. Yet norms of silence and shame often prevail. Young people are frustrated that their families simply don’t talk about mental wellness, and certainly not about mental illness or suicide. While friends may be somewhat more likely to talk to one another, young people don’t have the maturity or skills to help a friend who may be expressing a crisis or thoughts of suicide.
JCFS and Response know that it is crucial for adults who interact with young people (parents, teachers, coaches, youth workers, pediatricians) to know how to recognize warning signs of suicide and know how to respond – immediately and effectively. That’s why we have staff certified to train others in Youth Mental Health First Aid, an evidence-based, skills-building program for adults who care for young people, and other suicide prevention curricula which are shown to increase chances of survival when people contemplate suicide.
We are committed to educating parents and professionals to listen and respond when young people are in crisis. And we can provide additional resources, including mental health counseling, when more is needed.
If you are concerned about a young person, or yourself, please reach out immediately to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800.273.8255 or the Crisis Textline (text HOME to 741741) and keep this number in your phone. Many people fear that asking about thoughts of suicide increases the risk of an attempt, but that’s not true. Asking decreases the risk of an attempt. You can ask directly: “Are you thinking of harming yourself?” “Are you so unhappy that you wish you were dead?” This alone shows that someone cares and can make all the difference.
If you are seeking culturally-sensitive services for African American youth, here are some resources from Mental Health America.