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5 Reasons Suicide Is on the Rise in the Black Community, According to a Psychiatrist

By: Maia Niguel Hoskin, PhDMedically

Reviewed by: Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Date: May 17, 2022

Two devastating losses to suicide in the Black community marked the beginning of 2022: the deaths of attorney, former Miss USA, activist, and entertainment news correspondent Cheslie Kryst, and of up-and-coming DJ and songwriter Ian King Jr., who was also the son of Academy Award–winning actress Regina King.

The deaths of Kryst and King sent shock waves through the Black community and among fans at large. Both were young: Kryst was 30, and King had turned 26 just days before taking his life. Both were successful and appeared to have the world at their fingertips.

Sadly, Kryst and King are not alone. Their deaths have shed light on an ongoing and alarming issue: increasing rates of suicide among Black Americans. Between 2014 and 2019, rates of suicide among Black people in the United States increased by 30 percent, according to data published in May 2021 in JAMA Network Open.

A report published in November 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that although the overall rate of suicide in the United States decreased by 3 percent in 2020, the rate of suicide actually increased among many men of color, including Black men, during this time. Between 2011 and 2020, the suicide rate among Black men was 3 times that of Black women, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports.

Equally alarming, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health found that suicide was the second leading cause of death among Black people ages 15 to 24 in 2019. And according to a report released in December 2019 by the Congressional Black Caucus’s Emergency Task Force on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, suicide is also the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 10 to 19.

What’s Driving the Rise in Suicides Among Black Americans?

Patrice Harris, MD, Everyday Health’s chief health and medical editor and the first Black woman to be elected president of the American Medical Association, discusses five factors likely contributing to this increase, and what could help change this trajectory.

1. Social Media Ramps Up Pressure to Fit In

Social media is undeniably pervasive and has made society incredibly voyeuristic, says Dr. Harris, as it’s given people nearly unlimited access to view others’ lives online. This can make people feel pressured to conform to an ideal, and pressure associated with social media is one potential cause of increased suicides among Black people, Harris says.

“Unfortunately, we've seen increased suicide numbers in Black people — particularly in youth — over the last decade,” she says. “Although there is no one causal factor for this, it is important to remember that we live in an age where most people are connected to social media, which comes with the pressure to create an image like we’re living perfect lives. This is especially true for our young people who might feel extreme pressure to live a certain kind of life or compete with their peers' appearance.” According to Harris, this kind of pressure can negatively affect one’s sense of self-worth, identity, and sense of belonging, especially among young people.


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