Solutions, prevention | How to talk to young people about suicide

While efforts to reduce suicide among white children are showing results, suicide attempts among Black children are rising fast, data shows. 

“We know a lot about what works for white youth in terms of preventing suicide,” said suicidologist and Bloomberg Fellow Janel Cubbage.” And we just don’t have that same evidence-base or literature around Black youth suicide.”

Listening is the one thing that young people and experts said can help the most. 

11Alive held a sit-down conversation with three young people to get their perspective on how they are dealing with the pressures of school and everyday life. 

“By default, as a Black child you are seen as unruly,” said 13-year-old London Connolly. “If you do one thing, it is magnified. You could be suspended. You could have the cops called on you.”

“White kids’ mental health will be put over Black kids,” Connolly believes. “Everybody is not the same. Like as a Black child, I’m dealing with generational trauma. I’m dealing with racism as a Black woman. I’m dealing with sexism. I’m dealing with colorism from the Black community. Sometimes it’s a lot on top of each other.”

Carlene Williams, 9th grader, even shared how sometimes it’s hard to find a place where students feel welcomed and accepted. 

“I don’t belong in this crowd, I don’t belong in that crowd,” Williams said. “If I act a certain way around white people, I’ll be labeled as ghetto. If I act a way around Black people, I’ll be labeled as white.”

“I feel like race isn’t communicated well in schools,” said 9th grader Charlotte Harleston.

Their experiences lead them to feel that no one is listening. 

“That’s one of the things that’s really big for me and for my friends: let me talk, let me explain it. Don’t then say, ‘Well, no, because you have a great life’ and ‘no, because you’re not failing your classes’ and ‘no, because you have all these great friends,” Harleston said. “Let me finish. Let me tell you what I don’t tell you when I come home from school.

“Let me tell you about the kids who keep bothering me. Let me tell you about the fact that I don’t understand my math class, but somehow I’m still passing. Like, let me tell you all of these other things,” she added. “Let me tell you what’s going on with just me and how I’m wrestling with my identity. If I finish, then maybe you’ll understand.”

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