Black Youth Are Scarce in Suicide Research Studies

Grim statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on suicide among young people indicate that Black youth under 13 are twice as likely to die by suicide compared to their White peers, and the suicide death rate among Black youth is increasing faster than any other racial or ethnic group. The data prompted Carla Sharp, the John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Psychology at the University of Houston, to wonder if Black adolescents are properly represented in suicide research, the path to finding answers and possible solutions to the tragic increase.

In a new study, Dr. Sharp and lead author Eric Sumlin, who recently graduated from the clinical psychology program at the university, examined a large body of academic work on suicide to determine the inclusion of Black youth in research study samples at a rate consistent with the overall national rate of Black adolescents in the U.S.

“Research clearly points to the omission of Black youth in the literature that guides treatment development,” Dr. Sharp said. “Out of 22 studies identified, only one was able to investigate treatment outcomes for suicide in Black youth specifically.”

The full study, “Quantifying the Representation of Black Adolescents in Suicide Intervention Research,” was published in the journal Research of Child and Adolescent Psychopathology. It may be accessed here.

In a second study, Dr. Sharp and her team established an evidence-based approach for developing a culturally informed understanding of suicide risk among Black youth. They found that the most common reasons for suicide were racism (40%), depression (32%), poverty (26%) and bullying (22%). The most common reasons for living were family (58%), having a purpose or goals (36%), friends (30%) and hope for a better future (26%). Responses highlighted issues of racism and social justice, depression, and poverty, as well as the protective role of relationships, living for the future, and contributing to Black empowerment.

“Cultural consensus modeling offers a useful empirical tool to elevate the voices of Black youth, improving extant theories of suicide, and identifying unique mechanisms or opportunities for prevention,” Dr. Sharp concluded.

The full study “Cultural Consensus Modeling to Identify Culturally Relevant Reasons for and Against Suicide Among Black Adolescents,” was published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. It may be accessed here.

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