By Sheena Lall, LGPC
From 2018-2021, the suicide rate of Black youth ages 10 to 24 increased by 36.6%, with the highest increase in suicide attempts showing up in adolescent Black girls.
My blogs don't normally start like I’m writing a research paper, but this is a statistic that needs to be seen, heard, and understood. In short, our precious children need us now. The second most vulnerable group was the LGBTQ+ community- and for children who identify as both, the outlook is even more severe.
September is Suicide Prevention Month and here are some important things we can do to help our children know that they are valued.
A sense of belonging- feeling they are accepted for who they are is the number one factor that can prevent a child from feeling suicidal. We need to take a minute and recognize that the first thing our children need is just for us to listen to them and love them. It is hard not to tell them what is right or wrong, but they just need to talk and be heard.
Stigma in the culture. We have long looked at mental health as a taboo topic. If you need counseling, something is wrong with you. That is just not true - and that way of thinking is what got us into this danger. If we have personal feelings about depression, anxiety, or sexuality and gender- those are our feelings to deal with in adult contexts. We can talk to our own people or seek out counseling to help us understand why we have certain biases when it comes to these issues. Telling our kids they shouldn't feel what they feel because we don’t understand it is not helpful.
TALK ABOUT IT! Teens are most likely to turn to a peer for support when feeling down. Even if you think your child is not in danger of suicidal ideation, talk to them about it. If a friend ever comes to them, it would help for them to have had the conversation with a supportive adult already. Teach your children 988- the number for the suicide hotline. Most of all, talk to your kids about feeling scared to tell an adult if a friend has suicidal ideation. Make sure that they know their friend’s lives are more important than their friend being mad at the moment. It is a common misconception that talking about suicide will cause suicidal thoughts, but there is no research to prove that. In fact, studies show the exact opposite. Education is a preventative measure.
Youth in the justice system are 4 times more likely to commit suicide. These youth have more risk factors for suicide including substance use disorders, psychiatric disorders, exposure to trauma, and access to lethal means. Addressing those risk factors by getting youth into counseling programs and restricting access to lethal means are proven methods of prevention.
Talk to your kids about what they see that bothers them. All too often, we are exposed to young Black men and women killed by police on television. We see school fights that are traumatic displays of violence daily. LGBTQ+ children listen to the news and hear their rights being taken away, they hear the reports of books being banned in schools. All these events tell our children that their lives do not matter in our society. We may take for granted the effect that these events may have on the minds of our young ones. Please ask them how they feel when they have these experiences, and listen to their responses.
As humans, all we all want in this world is to be seen, to be heard, and to be accepted for who we are. To be enough. Let the children in your village know that you are someone that they can turn to - anytime for anything. You might save a life.
***If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, call 988 the Crisis Lifeline or 911 the police.