By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
African American teenagers in the United States historically have had lower suicide rates than their white counterparts – until now.
A new study analyzing suicide among American teens by a team led by researchers at the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University have uncovered several troubling trends from 1991 to 2017, among Black high school students in particular.
Researchers discovered that between 1991 and 2017, there has been an increase in the number of African American teens who said they had attempted suicide in the past year. Suicide rates for teenagers of other races and ethnicities either remained the same or decreased over that period.
The researchers did not cite a reason for the trend.
Bill Prasad, a licensed professional counselor with Contemporary Medicine Associates in Bellaire, Texas, cited what he believed are some reasons.
“Lack of accessibility to mental health care, the inability to pay for medications and healthcare coverage, the lack of acceptance of mental illness among some members of the black community, and the availability of firearms,” Prasad stated.
Prasad was not among the researchers involved in the study.
Frank King, the so-called “Mental Health Comedian,” called the problem a “cultural phenomenon.”
“Young people in these groups are less likely to share their issues surrounding depression and thoughts of suicide with friends and family than youth in other racial and ethnic groups,” King stated.
Among the answers is starting the conversation on depression and suicide in high-risk groups,” he said.
“A partial answer is giving young people permission to give voice to their experiences and feelings, without recrimination, such as ‘If you were stronger in Christ this wouldn’t be happening,’ or ‘What do you have to be depressed about, we’ve given you everything. Your father and I started our life with nothing,’ and so forth,” King stated.
Researchers in the NYU study noted that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teens from all demographics. They found that only accidents kill more young people than suicide.
The study also revealed that, in 2017, approximately 2,200 teens between the ages of 15 and 19 died by suicide.
Researchers gathered information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 198,540 high school students from 1991 to 2017.
Among high school students of all demographics, 1 in 5 said they were thinking about suicide, and 1 in 10 said they had made a plan to end their lives.
CNN Health reported that the study is in line with earlier research that has shown African American boys, especially younger boys between the ages of 5 and 11, have experienced an increase in the rate of suicide deaths.
In black children ages 5 to 12, the suicide rate was found to be two times higher compared with white children, according to CNN Health.
The study authors found “an increased risk in reported suicide attempts among African-American teens between 1991 and 2017, and boys saw an increase in injuries related to those attempts. That might mean that black teens were using more lethal means when attempting suicide.”
They found a decline in attempts overall among teens who identified as white, Hispanic, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.
“As an African American woman, suicide is prominent in our community for two reasons: we often do not know how to handle it amongst our families, and the pressures on our culture are rising,” said Sabriya Dobbins of Project Passport LLC, a company that encourages getaway retreats centered around three mental wellness areas: reflection, community and personal.
“Oftentimes when a black family member says they want to take their life, the family may resort to church, belittle their response and tell them to stop overreacting, or simply assume it is not a big deal,” Dobbins stated.
“African American families are taught to be tough and to hold it together because it is already ‘us against the world.’ We are taught to put our heads down and work hard to get those degrees and move up in our careers.
“This causes expectations to be too high, then depression and anxiety are heightened. Not only are black youth trying to satisfy their families and be strong, but they are trying to fight their way through a world that is not always accepting. A world where they are dying in alarming numbers in senseless crimes. It is a double edge sword.”
Parents should be on the lookout for risk factors, such as a recent or severe loss like death or divorce, said Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent.
Dr. Walfish also counts as a regular expert child psychologist on CBS Television’s “The Doctors,” and she co-stars on WE TV’s, “Sexbox.”
“Parents should take heed when they observe specific warning signs like changes in behavior, including difficulty concentrating, difficulty focusing on school or following routine activities, researching ways to kill oneself on the internet, increasing the use of alcohol or other drugs, and acting recklessly,” Walfish stated.
Included among other signs are changes in personality, appearing withdrawn, isolating to their room, irritability, extreme mood changes that are more than typical moodiness, exhibiting rage or talking about seeking revenge, Walfish added.
Other alarms include changes in sleep patterns, insomnia, oversleeping, nightmares, talking about dying, going away, or different types of self-harm, she said.
“Teaching problem-solving and conflict resolution skills, building a strong connection to family, friends, and community support are ways to help,” Walfish stated.
“Restrict access to highly lethal means of suicide, such as firearms, and provide access to effective mental health care, including substance use treatment. Talk to your child. Many people are fearful that talking to their children about suicide will increase their risk of suicide. This is a myth,” Walfish said.
How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or 1-800-432-8366. You can also visit http://teenlineonline.org.
Parents Raise the Alarm About Violence in Schools, Say Their Votes Depends on Improvement
NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
A new poll revealed that parents continue to express “legitimate concerns” about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources.
Alarmingly, the poll released by the National Parents Union found that 59 percent of parents are very or extremely concerned about how schools are teaching race and diversity.
“Many Black parents are worried that schools are being harsher on students of color compared to white students,” researchers noted in the poll.
The National Parents Union counts as a network of parent organizations and grassroots activists committed to improving the quality of life for children and families in the United States.
Conducted from November 19 to November 23, the survey included 1,233 parents who also count as registered voters.
Researchers found that 84 percent of parents are concerned about how schools address the threat of violence, and 59 percent identified increased bullying or violence in school as a significant issue.
About 52 percent said student mental health after coping with the pandemic is a significant issue, as well.
“Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.
“Now, it is incumbent on schools to do something about these issues, especially given the federal funds available. It’s not rocket science. Rather than repaint a football field, first, make sure that there are enough counselors to help students cope with mental health issues,” Rodrigues asserted.
The poll also asked the parents who responded that they were concerned about the threat of violence, which worries them the most.
The top three most pressing concerns remain:
- 44 percent: schools not having enough counselors, psychologists, or social workers to work with students
- 42 percent: schools not having resources to keep weapons out of schools
- 39 percent: schools not having school resource officers or police accessible on campus
- 59 percent of parents are extremely or very concerned about how schools are teaching about race and diversity; Among Black parents, 69 percent share this sentiment, which drops slightly to 67 percent among Hispanic parents.
Of the overall number of parents who are at least somewhat concerned (79 percent):
- 48 percent say what concerns them the most is schools are not teaching accurate information about the issue of race.
- 42 percent are most concerned about schools pushing a progressive agenda onto students
- 56 percent of GOP parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
- 32 percent are most concerned that schools aren’t focused on the issue enough
- 46 percent of Black parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
- 78 percent of parents are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues
- Nearly half (46 percent) of Black parents who said they are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues are worried that schools are harsher on students of color compared to white students
- 38 percent of parents trust Democrats to do a better job of handling education; 31 percent trust Republicans; 14 percent trust both equally; 11 percent trust neither
Among parents who identify as Independents, 28 percent trust Republicans and 20 percent trust Democrats.
“These findings underscore the importance of the very thing we have been imploring school leaders across the country to do – listen to the parents in your community,” Rodrigues stated.
“It also reinforces the need for those running for office to take the concerns of parents very seriously or risk losing elections.”
COMMENTARY: Telling Our Family Stories Keeps Black History Alive
We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of our favorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.
Let’s Talk Black Education
By Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO Fortune School
When we were kids, my dad would take us to football games at the University of Southern California (USC). I didn’t care much for football, but I loved it when we’d stay after the game to hear the USC marching band play. His love for marching bands is why we have a drumline at the public charter school I founded and named after my parents — Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School.
We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of ourfavorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.
As the story goes, one day back in 1947, my grandma sent little Rex to the corner store to get some eggs so she could bake a cake. My dad bought the eggs and put them in his pockets. On the walk home, he encountered a marching band high-steppin’ down the dusty road to his mother’s house. Little Rex got so excited that he followed the band, beating on his legs like drums all the way home and, yes, breaking all the eggs.
“Rex and the Band” explores a day in the life of Rex, a spirited young boy who dreams of one day playing in a high-energy marching band like the ones he enjoys watching with his father during North Carolina A&T football games.
Reading my sister’s beautifully illustrated book, I cried tears of joy. Telling our family stories is such an important way for African Americans to keep our history alive. Griots, or storytellers, are the reason why we know the truths that we do know about our family history and ancestors.
I believe all of us can think back to when our grandparents would tell us stories about our ancestors who may have passed on before we were born. It was their way of making sure our stories were not only told but preserved.
The Black press has been the clearinghouse for many stories that have impacted the Black community over time. My sister published her first poem in Ebony Jr. as an elementary school student and then in high school she interned at the Sacramento Observer newspaper.
Gwen founded Cocoa Kids Books to publish books like “Rex and the Band” that encourage Black children to dream, aspire for more, and soar because they see themselves reflected in stories that are engaging, authentic, uplifting, and inspiring. I’m so proud of my big sis! You can buy Gwen’s book at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/rex-and-the-band.
Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.
American Cancer Society and Four Historically Black Colleges and Universities Announce Groundbreaking Diversity in Cancer Research Program to Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The awards provided through the DICR program are unique in cancer research. They provide a large amount of salary support for the four colleges to select clinical faculty who need more dedicated time for their cancer research and scholarly activities. They also fund other student and postdoctoral programs and underpin the awards with career development funds and mentorship by established American Cancer Society Professors.
The American Cancer Society (ACS), along with four historically black medical schools including Charles Drew Medical School, Howard University, Meharry Medical College, and Morehouse School of Medicine, today announced a groundbreaking Diversity in Cancer Research (DICR) Program to help improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the cancer research field.
The inaugural initiatives of the overarching program include DICR Institutional Development Grants. The four HBCUs have received DICR grants in a pilot program for 2021-2022.
The awards provided through the DICR program are unique in cancer research.
They provide a large amount of salary support for the four colleges to select clinical faculty who need more dedicated time for their cancer research and scholarly activities.
They also fund other student and postdoctoral programs and underpin the awards with career development funds and mentorship by established American Cancer Society Professors.
The grants will build sustainability for both clinical and scientific cancer-focused careers, launching or sustaining the careers of 104 individuals by 2025.
The impactful program will create a more inclusive research environment to address health disparities more effectively and could lead to targeted recruitment efforts focused on bringing people of color into clinical research protocols.
Establishing a research community that is made up of a diverse group of people is vital to ensuring scientific excellence.
“The American Cancer Society is committed to launching the brightest minds into cancer research and to reducing health disparities,” said Dr. William Cance, American Cancer Society Chief Medical and Scientific Officer.
“To accomplish this, we believe it is essential to invest in the minority workforce and their dedicated efforts to solve disparities and establish equity in cancer care.”
“There are many reasons the Black community continues to experience disparities in cancer care outcomes. But one of the most critical factors behind the imbalance, and one of the most promising paths to closing the gap, is diversity in cancer care research. We must improve diversity and representation in our laboratories if we expect different outcomes in our hospitals,” said Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, president of Howard University.
“As a cancer surgeon and as the president of an HBCU, I believe the Diversity in Cancer Research Program will prove to be pivotal in altering the field of cancer care research and improving cancer care outcomes for Black Americans. I am deeply appreciative of the American Cancer Society’s efforts behind this initiative.”
Data show that African Americans and Black people, Hispanics and Latinos, indigenous people and native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in grant funding.
Fewer than 2% of applicants for the National Institute of Health’s principal grant program come from Black/African Americans, and fewer than 4% from Hispanic/Latino populations.
“We are incredibly excited about this new program with the American Cancer Society,” said Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Ph.D., MD, President and CEO of Meharry Medical College.
“There is a significant imbalance in the representation of minority populations in clinical research which has led to poorer outcomes for specific racial and ethnic minority groups. To eradicate the varying health disparities that affect these populations, we must prioritize diversifying clinical trials and those who conduct trials to ensure treatment is safe and effective.”
This is a fantastic step to ensuring minority populations receive effective treatment and provides great opportunities for our students and faculty to engage in cancer research,” Dr. Hildreth stated.
“The development of diverse, highly competitive, and independent research faculty has been a goal at CDU since its inception 55 years ago,” shared Dr. David M. Carlisle, President and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, located in South Los Angeles.
“This generous grant from the American Cancer Society will directly support a range of programs towards that goal, including the Center to Eliminate Cancer Health Disparities as well as our Clinical Research and Career Development Program, which provides training and mentoring in health disparities and community-partnered participatory research to minority scholars and junior faculty at CDU. This funding will undeniably help CDU in forming a solid foundation in social justice for future cancer research leaders.”
With the DICR program, ACS has committed to a $12 million investment to support four HBCU medical schools with DICR institutional development grants to fund a four-year program that aims to increase the pool of minority cancer researchers by identifying talented students and faculty from HBCUs.
This program will inform efforts to develop a national program to boost cancer research and career development at minority-serving institutions (MSIs).
These grants are designed to build capacity and enhance the competitiveness of faculty at MSIs when applying for nationally competitive grant support and aid in faculty development and retention.
“Here in Georgia, cancer health disparities exist by age, gender, race, income, education, and access to care, among other factors, with Georgia residents in rural communities experiencing worse cancer health outcomes than their urban counterparts,” said Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, president and CEO at Morehouse School of Medicine.
“The DICR program will be a much-needed and welcome contribution to our work at the Morehouse School of Medicine Cancer Health Equity Institute, forever changing the field of cancer research. The program will not only ensure diversity and inclusion in research, but address health disparities in diverse communities, and assist in our mission in leading the creation and advancement of health equity.”
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