The State of Suicide Trends Among American Black Youth

January 31, 2020

A report from the Congressional Black Caucus outlined a chilling reality about the trends in suicidal completion and ideation among American Black youth. The report, “Ring the Alarm: The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America,” stated that black youth did not used to be documented as a high-risk group. Recent data now proves otherwise with black youth suicidal behavior rates “increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group.” The Congressional Black Caucus outlined suggested actions that could be taken to try and alleviate these trends. Some examples included the concepts of resiliency and protective factors, topics studied in the field of recreation.

“Resilience” can be defined as one’s ability to positively adapt and respond to stressful situations. “Protective factors” are multifaceted and not limited to an individual’s biological, social, mental, or familial characteristics. Such characteristics are thought to reduce the likelihood of an individual succumbing to outcomes like suicidal behaviors, anxiety, and substance abuse.

An article by Green, Kleiber, & Tarrant (2000) provided an example of a study that investigated the relationship between recreation and its effects on resiliency and protective factors in low-income minority youth. This study found that five of the protective factors had improved after the youth participated in the adventure-based recreation program. The adventure-based program enrolled inner city, middle school students to participate in a ropes course.

However, there are inherent limitations with this kind of research. The report from the Congressional Black Caucus pointed out a glaring error that needs to be remedied as soon as possible. That is, whites are more widely researched than blacks. This means it is difficult to generalize research findings across all racial and ethnic minorities. Take note that the participants in the article by Green et al. (2000) were 99% African American. If we are to understand the impacts of recreation on resiliency and protective factors on black youth, then more studies like Greene et al. (2000) need to be conducted.

You can read the full “Ring the Alarm” report here.