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Faith at the Nexus of Black Young Men and Suicide Ideation

Suicide in the black community has always been a subject of taboo. Few people want to talk about it. But if we have been reticent to discuss the suicide of grown folk in our families and community, what is our attitude about the accelerating suicide rates among black youth/adolescents 15-24 years old? It could be your son, your nephew, your brother or just a young man down the block.

If we don't feel comfortable, we'd better get comfortable and begin ministering to this grouping.

A report published in November 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that although the overall rate of suicide in the United States decreased by 3 percent in 2020, the rate of suicide actually increased among many men of color, including Black men, during this time.

Equally alarming, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health found that suicide was the second leading cause of death among Black people ages 15 to 24 in 2019. And according to a report released in December 2019 by the Congressional Black Caucus’s Emergency Task Force on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, suicide is also the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 10 to 19. This trend has remained unchanged.

What's behind it? There are many factors involved, but three are arresting: The effects of interaction with law enforcement, social media and peer group pressure.

Kristin Henning, director of the Juvenile Justice Clinic at Georgetown University's law school and author of "The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth, says "So there is research sort of documenting that longer-term impact. And what we're finding is that young people who experience - who live in heavily surveilled police neighborhoods experience high rates of fear, anxiety, hopelessness. Also, it has a significant impact on a child's sense of themselves - who they are, who they can become and whether or not it's worth it to even participate in mainstream society."

In 2009, only about half of teens used social media every day, Twenge reports. In 2017, 85% used it daily. By 2022, 95% of teens said they use some social media, and about a third say they use it constantly, a poll from Pew Research Center found.

"Black adolescents, between the ages of 12–18 years old, have been characterized as a particularly disadvantaged group given misdiagnosis and overdiagnosis of certain mental health disorders, and underdiagnosis of others, and limited access to mental health treatment", according to the findings from Pew.

And, according to the National Library of Medicine, "Black adolescents living with peer group associated mental health disorders are less likely than non-Black adolescents with mental health disorders to receive treatment for various reasons including, negative perceptions of services and providers and lack of access to mental health services."

In light of these findings, parents, caregivers, mentors and clergy should begin constructing programming to undergird, support and provide an outlet for this age-group to air their feelings.

The aforementioned findings are not new. In 2001, Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint and Amy Alexander authored Lay My Burden Down: Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans. The book sheds light on the mental health challenges faced by African-Americans, particularly related to suicide among black men. It discusses the unique physical and emotional perils that result from the legacy of slavery and persistent racism.

What We Can Do Right Now

  1. Launch wellness ministries in our churches aimed at specific age groups and demographics.

  2. Convene small-group bible-based conversations about the issues impacting our young, black men - regardless of whether they are members of our churches or not.

  3. Begin to advocate locally for increased tools and programming from government agencies charged with leading preventive efforts.

  4. Work with local school districts to create in and after school intervention programming.

What's most needed is a nurturing, non-judgmental environment where conversations begin and flourish with impact and action.

Suicide ideation, or suicidal thoughts, is the thought process of having ideas or ruminations about ending one's life. What our young black men who have actually harbored these thoughts - and the ones who tragically followed through - are thinking is counter to God's word:

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Jeremiah 29:11

We must intervene and usher in this brand-new future!

Pastor W. Eric Croomes is a Faith Influencer and Believers Coach and curator of Black Men Mental Wellness.

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