Editor’s note: This story contains discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, free resources are available. Please see our list below.
The mental health crisis in the United States is growing, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which isolated Americans from friends and family and spiked feelings of anxiety.
More Black Americans have sought professional counseling amid the pandemic than in prior years — a step toward reducing mental health stigma and healing trauma. Still, concerning trends endure.
The rate of suicide among Black Americans is on the rise and mental health experts are ringing the alarm. Self-reported suicide attempts increased by almost 80% among Black adolescents over the past few decades. And while the number of suicides among white Americans has driven the overall rate down, the numbers for Black people are climbing.
Experts say Black adolescents are less likely to be diagnosed with mental illness because the current tools for identifying mood disorders are not culturally sensitive enough to detect symptoms of anxiety and depression among Black youth, who experts say may show less sadness and crying, and more anger, frustration and irritability.
Overdose rates among Black Americans are also skyrocketing. Black men have seen the largest increase in overdose deaths across demographic groups. From 2015 to 2020, the rate has more than tripled, meaning the rate for Black men now surpasses white men. It’s a significant shift from the first phase of the opioid epidemic, which hit predominantly white communities the hardest and was driven in large part by prescription drugs.
Mental health is one of the most urgent topics facing America’s Black communities. Capital B will cover the biggest stories as they develop and shed light on the latest trends. Here is our suggested reading list.
Suicide Among Black Girls is a Mental Health Crisis Hiding in Plain Sight — Kyra Aurelia Alessandrini highlights the rising rates of suicide for Black youth, especially Black girls, for Time magazine.
Pandemic Unveils Growing Suicide Crisis for Communities of Color — Nationwide data shows a startling increase in the numbers of suicides in communities of color. It’s a crisis that has been exacerbated amid the pandemic, Aneri Pattani reports for Kaiser Health News.
A ‘Rare Case Where Racial Biases’ Protected African Americans — For The New York Times, Austin Frakt and Toni Monkovic explore how prejudice shielded Black Americans from the first phase of the opioid epidemic because they are less likely to be prescribed painkillers that were driving opioid addiction in white communities.
Philadelphia Drug Deaths Soared Again in 2020, Hitting Black Residents Hardest: ‘It’s a Racial Justice Issue’ — Aubrey Whelan reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer that fatal overdoses are increasing among Black Philadelphians while rates for their white counterparts are declining.
Black Opioid Deaths Increase Faster Than Whites, Spurring Calls for Treatment Equity — Health and medicine experts spoke with Marisa Peñaloza for an NPR article about the need for an updated public health response to the latest overdose trends.
Further Reading and Listening
Painkiller: America’s Fentanyl Crisis — In this podcast series by Vice News, reporter Keegan Hamilton dives into how fentanyl, an extremely potent synthetic opioid, has killed more people in one year than any other drug in modern history.
Depression and Anxiety Spiked Among Black Americans After George Floyd’s death — For The Washington Post, Alyssa Fowers and William Wan report on the dramatic increase in mental health problems as the coronavirus pandemic collided with racial justice protests in 2020.
Op-Ed: Surging Overdose Deaths are a Tragic Racial Justice Issue — To adequately address the opioid crisis, Joseph Friedman and Helena Hansen call for solutions like decriminalizing drugs, extending access to mental health treatment, and bolstering social services that address the conditions driving addiction.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, you can call the 24–hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HELLO to 741741 to connect with the National Crisis Text Line. Both are free and available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. You can also connect with someone online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org or https://www.crisistextline.org/.