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Suicide in the African American Community

Suicide in the African American Community

By: Yvette Smothers

Louisiana ranks 30th for suicide death rates among the 15-24-year-old age group- or 15.2 percent according to the American Association for Suicidology. According to WebMD, in the United States, suicide death rates among African American females aged 13 to 19 rose 182% between 2001 and 2017, while the rate among African American males in that age range rose 60% during that same time period.  Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Louisiana and the 2nd leading cause of death for 10-24-year-old age group.  “What is clear,” said Michael Lindsey, executive director of NYU’s McSilver Institute, who took part in a similar study, “is that suicide is a public health crisis.”

Among African American teens, suicide deaths are alarmingly on the rise. A profound example in Louisiana is the case of Traeh (Heart spelled backwards) Thyssen. Traeh was only 13 when he died by suicide. He had been a victim of bullying for some time. Unfortunately, bullying is one of the leading causes of suicide amongst African American youth. The lack of accessible healthcare is another contribution. His mother, Rosalynn Thyssen said Traeh was a “happy and outgoing kid. He loved acting, dancing, drawing, but most importantly, just seeing people smile”. In an interview with WAFB News in Baton Rouge, Thyssen said, “I tried to focus more on his life, and letting him live through others by just making sure people know that tomorrow gets better. A lot of people are afraid to talk about suicide, it is taboo, it makes people uncomfortable, but I can say that I would rather have a 15-minute uncomfortable conversation than deal with the pain of losing anyone else to suicide because that pain is forever”.

Representative Barbara Carpenter, the Vice-Chairwoman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, which is part of an effort to change Louisiana laws regarding suicide, assessed the situation and stated, “mental health has always been a concern in the African American community. However, so much stigma associated with the disease has prevented the African American community from seeking acceptable treatment. The fact that there is a rise in the suicide death rate among African American male and female adolescents is troubling.  Our young people are faced with many issues related to peer pressure, dysfunctional families, racial discrimination, the lack of economic advancements and now COVID, all of which lead to mental distress of the younger generation. Until those factors are recognized as major contributing factors, the rate of suicide will continue.”

There is a solution to address this growing crisis. Schools need to monitor bullying and ensure that victims of bullying get the care and support they need. Mental health care access also needs to be accessible to all of those who need it. Lastly, it is important to talk to children about mental health. By having open discussions about how one feels, the stigma behind mental health can be reduced and people can get the help they need.

If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text  “HOME” to 741741.


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