Study Shows Suicide Rates For Black Girls Doubled During Pandemic
The suicide rate amongst Black girls doubled in comparison to that of Black boys since the start of the pandemic, Dr. Tami Benton, M.D. revealed during a lecture at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in May of 2022.
Benton, who is the psychiatrist-in-chief at the hospital, observed suicidal behaviors in Black youth ages 12-17 years old from February 21, 2020 to March 20, 2020 and February 21, 2021 to March 20, 2021. Through a study titled ‘ Suicide and Suicidal Behaviors Amongst Minoritized Teens,’ Benton found that Black boy suicide rates increased by 3.7 percent while Black girl suicide rates were 50.6 percent higher than the previous year.
The study explained that systemic racism, such as neighborhood violence, economic insecurity and historical trauma contribute to symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress in Black youth. Exposure to traumatic videos and other online posts are additional factors. It is not uncommon for youth to see videos of Black people being killed by the police or, more specific to Black girls, posts bashing them and emphasizing how undesirable they are. The study also unveiled that Black adolescents experience five racially discriminate events a day, including micro-aggressions.
Black girls also battle with a specific brand of intersectionality, known as ‘misogynoir.’ Coined by Black feminist Moya Bailey in 2010, misogynoir is defined as “a dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against Black women.” Black women simultaneously battle misogyny and racism day-in and day-out.
Benton went on to explore the possibility that current psychiatric screening tools may not be adequate in assessing Black suicide risk. Crisis counselor and Beckley native Arianna Logwood said the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community may play into this blockage.
“I don’t think the Black youth are being open about their mental health because they feel misunderstood and stuck,” Logwood said. “ I feel that within Black culture, when opening up slightly, instead of receiving empathy and help, you receive statements such as ‘people have it worse,’ ‘be thankful’ or ‘just pray about it.’ These statements make it seem as if their struggles are something they should just be able to ‘get over.’ So with this being said, I would say that young Black girls generally feel as though they need to remain strong and push through tough times.”
Nakia Austin, who is a licensed counselor and co-founder of The Healing House in Charleston, said she also recognizes the trope of the “strong, Black woman” as damaging to the mental health of Black girls and women.
“We witnessed our mothers and grandmothers live that narrative rather than properly heal, process and move forward,” Austin said. “You are more than what happened to you and just because you’re resilient doesn’t mean you’re healed.”
Austin said she feels Black girls having the option to receive treatment from someone who “looks like them and sounds like them” could help remove this stigma, as well as research and funding being invested into our healing.
“I don’t have a particular answer,” Austin said. “But there’s a million places we can start. People stay away from topics of race because it’s uncomfortable, but we need to have these uncomfortable conversations.”
Logwood said her own experiences with Black providers were helpful and fulfilling to her.
“I very much enjoy having Black women as caregivers, personally,” Logwood said. “I feel that I can talk the way I normally do and not try to explain something like I’m writing an essay. When I’m attempting to explain my situation to a Black caregiver, I know I am not going to be portrayed as a ‘loud, angry, Black woman’ and will feel my concerns are addressed properly. It’s a more organic and natural experience.”
The study stated that familial support, school connectedness, stable finances and higher levels of racial and ethnic identification were protective factors for Black youth. Logwood also feels that it’s important to provide better support systems, resources and education for mental health.
“We need to teach self-love and how to embrace their experience,” Logwood said. “Also, empathizing and providing love and safe spaces. It’s about letting them know that they have to take care of themselves first.”
“988” is the three-digit, nationwide phone number to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.