Why suicide rates continue to climb for Black youth

Suicide continues to be the second leading cause of death for Ohioans between the ages of 10 and 34 years old, and state and local health experts are finding the increasing rate of suicide deaths among young Black people concerning.

On average, five Ohioans die by suicide each day and one youth dies every 34 hours by suicide, according to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Ohio is providing funding to help counties and state agencies come up with ways to implement more suicide prevention strategies, particularly geared toward Black youth.

“Over the last several years, national and state data has shown a troubling increase in suicide rates among Black children and young adults,” Gov. Mike DeWine said. “Every single loss is significant and tragic, which is why our hope with this initiative is to strengthen supports for our young people and help them build the resiliency needed to reach their full, God-given potential.”

From 2020 to 2021, the number of suicide deaths (1,766) increased 8%, and the rate of suicide death (14.8 deaths per 100,000 population) increased 7%, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Between 2011 and 2021, the rate of suicide deaths among Black Ohioans increased from 6.1 per 100,000 (2011) to 10.2 per 100,000 (2021).

Number of deaths by suicide among youth ages 15 through 24               
 2019  2020  2021  2022  2023  
Source: Mortality data from Ohio Department of Health Data Warehouse. Percentages of people of white and Black races from U.S. Census.               
Years 2021 through 2023 are preliminary.              

Nationally, Black youth have the fastest growing suicide rate compared to their peers of other racial and ethnic groups. Between 2007 and 2020, the suicide rate among Black youth ages 10-17 increased by 144%, from 1.54 per 100,000 in 2007 to 3.77 per 100,000 in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“While suicide rates are on the rise among all ages and racial and ethnic groups, the narrowing gap among Black youth warrants attention now,” said OhioMHAS director LeeAnne Cornyn.

Using 2019 data, researchers found high school students who had attempted suicide were significantly different by race/ethnicity overall, 7.9% of white students had attempted suicide, according to survey data, compared to 11.8% of Black students and 8.9% of Hispanic students, according to the CDC.

Female high school students saw differences between differing races and ethnicities, include 9.4% of white female students, 15.2% of Black female students, and 11.9% of Hispanic female students. There was not a significant difference among male students of differing races and ethnicities.

There are a multitude of reasons behind why Black youth may be more vulnerable to suicidal ideation, local experts say.

There is still a lack of resources when it comes to mental and behavioral health services. When there is the added complexity for people may have multiple facets to their identity, such as a specific race, specific age range, language differences, and/or cultural differences, it can be difficult to find the help they need that would be best for them, said Tazeen Ahmed, senior program coordinator at Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) .

“We know that while our behavioral health workforce is doing everything that it can, there’s an ever growing need,” said Ahmed. “And so it’s expanding really quickly, and so being able to find those resources that are available when and where we need them is hard.”

In Montgomery County, mental health experts are working to break down the stigma that exists around suicide in general, she said.

The percentage of Ohio students in grades seventh through 12th who reported receiving a referral to a mental health provider increased from 19.2% in the 2017-18 school year to 25.4% in the 2021-22 school year, according to data from Public Health - Dayton and Montgomery County’s Community Health Assessment. The assessment used self-reported data from the Ohio Healthy Youth Environments survey.

Students also reported increasing experiences of bullying, going from 34.3% of kids in the 2017-18 school year compared to 58.4% in the 2021-22 school year, the health assessment data says. The percentage of students who felt like they belonged at their school also decreased from 50.6% to 43.6% in the same school years.

Experiences of Ohio youth in grades seventh through 12th in a state survey
School yearSeriously considered attempting suicideReceived a referral to a mental health professional Experienced bullyingFelt like they belonged in their school

Montgomery County ADAMHS is one of five organizations to receive a state grant of $250,000 to go toward suicide prevention.

The organization has had two other grants in recent years aimed at suicide prevention, including a campaign to reduce stigma around mental illness and another to raise awareness and promote resiliency when it comes to potentially traumatic childhood experiences.

Nearly 67% of Montgomery County kids of one survey reported experiencing one or more adverse childhood experience, according to an Ohio Healthy Youth Environments survey for the 2019 to 2020 school year.

For this latest grant, the organization will be addressing people in ages 10 through 25 and connecting them to local leaders, Ahmed said.

A project they have in mind includes forming a Youth Policy and Advocacy Committee, said A’Maria Carter, a program coordinator at Montgomery County ADAMHS. This project would teach a group of young people about policy and advocacy through different trainings and seminars, connecting them with local leaders.

“A lot of times they aren’t exposed to a lot of conversations like that, especially with the key stakeholders that we have in our community, too,” Carter said.

Rates of suicide and mental health services, per Public Health data
Montgomery CountyOhioU.S.
Suicide rate16.9 per 100,000 people15.1 per 100,000 people14.4 per 100,000 people
Adults who received mental health care17.6%17.9%14.7%
Mental health provider ratio290 people to one provider330 to one340 to one

The Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation received $500,000 from Ohio MHAS to go toward local and statewide efforts to prevent suicide, reduce stigma and address other issues to reduce the rates of suicide in Black youth and young adults.

“Suicide in the Black community has been increasing over the past decade and longer,” said Tony Coder, executive director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation.

To help achieve its goals, the foundation said it plans engage leaders from Black churches, other faith-based organizations and community centers.

How to get help

People experiencing a mental health crisis can call 988 for help. Montgomery County Alcohol Drug Addiction Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) and nonprofit RI International also operate their own crisis hotline called Crisis Now, which launched before the 988 lifeline became active. Montgomery County residents who are experiencing a mental health crisis can also call 833-580-CALL (2255).

About the Author