Black Teens, Especially Girls, at High Risk for Suicide Attempts

Black American teens, especially females, may be at high risk for attempting suicide even if they have never been diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to researchers funded in part by NIMH. Their findings, based on responses from adolescent participants in the National Survey of American Life (NSAL), provide the first national estimates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors (ideation) and suicide attempts in 13- to 17-year-old black youth in the United States. The study was published in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Background

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in all teens in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Historically, black teens and young adults have lower suicide rates than white teens, but in recent decades, the suicide rate for black youth has increased dramatically.

According to the study, in a given year, African American teen girls are most likely to attempt suicide, followed by Caribbean teen girls, African American teen boys, and Caribbean teen boys.

Having a mental disorder was closely linked to attempted suicide among study participants. Teens with anxiety disorders were a highest risk. Despite this relationship, roughly half of teens who attempted suicide did not have or were never diagnosed with a mental disorder.

As in previous studies, teens living in the U.S. South and West appeared to be less at risk for attempted suicide than those living in the Northeast.

Overall, the researchers estimated that at some point before they reach 17 years of age, 4 percent of black teens, and more than 7 percent of black teen females, will attempt suicide.

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