Jasmin Pierre was 18 when she tried to end her life, overdosing on whatever pills she could find. Diagnosed with depression and anxiety, she survived two more attempts at suicide, which felt like the only way to stop her pain.
Years of therapy brought progress, but the 31-year-old Black woman’s journey is now complicated by a combination of stressors hitting simultaneously: isolation during the pandemic, a shortage of mental health care providers and racial trauma inflicted by repeated police killings of Black people, reports Associated Press.
“Black people who already go through mental health issues, we’re even more triggered,” said Pierre, who lives in New Orleans. “I don’t think my mental health issues have ever, ever been this bad before.”
Health experts have warned of looming mental health crisis linked to the coronavirus outbreak, and the federal government rolled out a board anti-sicide campaign. But doctors and researchers say the issues reverberate deeper among Black people, who’ve seen rising youth suicide attempts and suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.
Mental health advocates are calling for more specialized federal attention on Black suicides, including research funding. Counselors focusing on Black trauma are offering free help. And Black churches are finding new ways to address suicide as social distancing has eroded how people connect.
“There has been a lot of complex grief and loss related to death, related to loss of jobs and loss of income,” said Sean Joe, an expert on Black suicides at Washington University in St. Louis. “There’s a lot of hurt and pain in America going on right now, and you only are getting a sense of depth in the months ahead.”
Suicides overall have increased. Roughly 48,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide in 2018, with the rate increasing 35% since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among all ages. For ages 10 to 19, it’s second after accidents.
Suicide attempts rose 73% between 1991 and 2017 among Black high school students while suicidal thoughts and plans for suicide fell for all teens, according to a study published in November in the journal Pediatrics. The findings, including troubling suicide trends among Black children, prompted the Congressional Black Caucus to issue a report in December deeming the situation a crisis.
Suicide risk factors include a diagnosis like depression or trauma or having a parent who committed suicide. Many factors are amplified for Black families, who often face higher poverty rates, disproportionate exposure to violence and less access to medical care.
The pandemic has heightened the disparities.