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Suicide rates are rising among Black youth. How advocates are trying to break the stigma around mental health

Data shows Black Americans are less likely to seek out mental health help. Advocates say it's vital to address the stigma around reaching out for help.

SEATTLE — Editor's note: The below story contains descriptions of self-harm. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit Vibrant Emotional Health’s Safe Space for digital resources.

The impact of racial unrest over the past few years has taken a significant mental health toll, especially on the Black community.

Data from the American Medical Association shows suicide rates have sharply increased, especially among young Black people.

In the past two decades, suicide attempts for Black males between 12 and 18 have increased by 79.7% making Black children and teens almost twice as likely to die by suicide than white children, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

And it's not just children at risk. Data shows the suicide rate for Black adults increased by 30% between 2014 and 2019.

However, data shows Black Americans are also less likely to seek out mental health help. Advocates say it's vital to address the stigma around reaching out for help.

'Your ancestors dealt with worse'

When Richard Taylor was 10 years old, he attempted to cut fat off of his body with a knife.

“I was like, what, maybe if I could just cut some of the fat off of my body, like it would help me it would change, you know, my physical appearance to where my peers wouldn't bully me anymore,” said Taylor.

When his parents came home, Taylor said they didn’t understand the severity of how he was feeling.

“It was minimized. It was shut down from the standpoint of, 'you're too young to be dealing with this' right, or, you know, 'your ancestors dealt with worse',” said Taylor- now a motivational speaker and author.

As Taylor grew up, outwardly he appeared to grow out of some of his problems.

“I was a standout quarterback in the city of Chicago playing football. Scholarship offers galore,” said Taylor. “Every time I felt, you know, an immense amount of mental or emotional turmoil, like, you know, I even that out with some kind of physical pain.”

Ten years later, Taylor's emotional pain led him to turn to self-harm again.

“That day, I just kind of was at my wit's end. That led me to a decision to take a blade down my wrist five times,” said Taylor. 

Now the word "love" is tattooed over the scar.

Protests over racial inequality and PTSD

Omari Salisbury understands how easy it can be for a person to get to a breaking point with their mental health.

During the summer of 2020, Salisbury, the owner of Converge Media, was on the ground in nearly every Seattle protest following the murder of George Floyd.

He witnessed the unrest, the attacks and the violence firsthand. Salisbury was covering protestors on I-5 when a car drove straight into the group.

“I remember it vividly, a car entering the empty freeway, going around the barricaded cars, ran right into a group of protestors, killing Summer Taylor and critically injuring Diaz Love,” said Salisbury.

The trauma of that scene combined with months of social unrest pushed Salisbury to his mental limits.

Salisbury made a difficult decision, in order to take care of his mental health, he stepped away from covering the protests to focus on himself and his community.

"So many people walk around with so much pain and so much trauma and so much hurt," Salisbury said. "Let me help you connect the dots. Let me do my part ... that's what I wanna do."

Black Americans less likely to seek help

Black Americans experience mental health issues at a rate similar to their white counterparts, but according to the American Psychological Association (APA), they are less likely to seek help.

“[Help] is often thought of as actually being a weakness,” said Dr. Devin Byrd, a trained psychologist, and president of Bastyr University. “Black men, historically … there's been a lot of pressure in terms of presenting oneself as being strong and not needing outside help or assistance.” 

Taylor said it was an attitude that, growing up, applied to everyone. 

“A lot of times, it wasn't discussed, you know, we could just simply say, oh, ‘that's just crazy Uncle Billy over there’, right, but not realizing that crazy Uncle Billy, like really needs help, right?” Taylor said.

Another barrier to seeking help is a lack of representation. Eighty-four percent of psychologists are white. Four percent are Black, according to the APA.

“We need more therapists of color. We need more individuals who are able to resonate with and understand the experiences of communities of color,” said Byrd. 

“My father and I have a phenomenal relationship. But like, he didn't really understand it,” said Taylor. 

After Taylor's last suicide attempt in his dorm room, he was able to get into therapy.

Through his work, he says he hopes to shatter the stigma around mental health treatment that is crushing so many Black families in silence. 

“We have so many of us living in silence. And unfortunately, if we live in silence for too long, we can make a decision to where we're not here anymore.” Taylor said.

Free and subsidized mental health resources: 

Open Path Psychotherapy Collective: “Our therapists provide affordable, in-office and online psychotherapy sessions between $30 and $60 (between $30 and $80 for couples & family sessions)

2. Black, Indigenous and People of Color Support Group: A weekly peer-led group open to all BIPOC individuals looking for mental health support and connection. Every Tuesday from 5-6 p.m.

3. Find a Black therapists in Seattle on Psychology Today 

4. WA Counselors of Color Network: The Washington Counselors of Color Network serves an array of ethnic clients needing counseling and therapy from providers who understand the specific needs of people of color and various cultures.

5. Therapy for Black Girls: Therapy for Black Girls is an online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls.

6. Therapy Fund Foundation: Empowering people of color through mental health education and radical self-care.

7. Beam: A collective of advocates, yoga teachers, artists, therapists, lawyers, religious leaders, teachers, psychologists and activists committed to the emotional/mental health and healing of Black communities.

    

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