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UW study finds Black teens less likely to share plans, thoughts before attempting suicide

Black high school students are almost twice as likely as white students to attempt suicide without reporting any thoughts or plan to do so, a new UW study found.

SEATTLE — The message of suicide awareness is especially important as therapists everywhere continue to take on a large number of clients due to the COVID-19 pandemic and racially motivated abuse.

September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, but a Seattle trauma therapist said suicide awareness needs to be happening all year long.

Ashley McGirt is a licensed independent clinical social worker and trauma therapist. She owns a practice called McGirt Counseling Services and started the Washington Therapy Fund Foundation, which connects people of color to therapy resources and financial help for counseling services.

As a racial trauma specialist, McGirt recognizes the Black community is less likely to seek therapy services when in crisis. In fact, a new study from the University of Washington (UW) found Black teens are twice as likely as white teens to attempt suicide without reporting any thoughts or plans to do so.

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McGirt said she believes this all links back to slavery in the United States.

"It really goes back to that legacy of post-traumatic slave syndrome and the history of American child slavery in this country," said McGirt. "Whereas sad slaves were not allowed to show that sadness. They were literally beaten and whipped for showing signs of sadness, and then, you know, slavery ends, and that is still passed down in many Black families."

According to the UW study, young men, in general, are also more likely to attempt suicide without communicating any thoughts or plans to do so.

McGirt said suicide is the third leading cause of death for young Black men.

"There's really a distrust of healthcare professionals, and there [aren't] a lot of health care professionals that look like me or reflect the current culture," said McGirt. "So, that's been a huge reason why people deter from mental health services as well. This is actually one of the reasons I became a therapist. I suffered from depression and suicidal ideation as a youth, and I went to see a therapist after the loss of my grandmother, and there were no Black therapists available, no culturally competent therapist available."

McGirt stressed that now there are culturally competent therapists available and services that will help with the cost.

For more information, visit the Washington Therapy Fund Foundation website.

For help recognizing the signs of suicide, you can visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is also available 24 hours a day at (800) 273-8255.