Minorities and Suicide: Creating a Lifeline for Hope
written by Hannah Gul-Khan
Ethnic minority youth are disproportionately at risk of suicide, with it being one of the leading causes of death for college students. Data released last year from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) shows that from 2013-2019, there was a 47% increase in the suicide rate for Black male youth between 15-24 years old. Black women in the same age range saw a 59% rise over the same six-year period.
The study also found among Asian minorities and Pacific Islanders, there was a 40% increase in the suicide rate for young men and 42% for young women aged 15-24.
Disparities in accessing mental health care and the weight of cultural stigma mean that many people of colour are left to face their experiences of mental illness without adequate support.
The pervasive presence of racism makes minorities more vulnerable to racial trauma and the systemic and institutional barriers that can dictate their experiences of young adult life.
Mental health remains a foreign matter, dismissed from discussions and labelled a taboo. The dominating fears that permeate young people’s minds, whether that be the potential of bringing shame upon the family or believing their trauma isn’t worth being expressed, may suppress minorities from reaching out.
The mental aftermath of racism
Though individual experiences of racism may differ, what collectively defines them is the traumatic and long-lasting pain of being subjected to discrimination.
Minorities may feel isolated and ostracised from society, making them subsequently vulnerable to mental illness and potential suicidal thoughts as they become hyperaware of their difference from their peers and the wider community.
This can cause internal turmoil about minority identity, the exhaustion of confronting your experiences and the endless search of why they were targeted. This brings hyper awareness to all the spaces people of colour occupy. Young people may become paranoid about taking up too much of it, and mental health stigma leaves those submerging emotions to sit without expression.
The younger years are critical to instil a sense of self and create enthusiasm for the future that lies ahead but minority experiences of racism could lead to a different reality.
How poverty intersects with suicide
Almost 20% of black people live under the poverty line along with 8.1% of Asian people. A study by the National Library of Medicine found that economic uncertainty surrounding future events can have detrimental effects on mental health that may trigger thoughts of suicide within certain individuals.
The stresses of poverty are not strictly financial, and its mental strain can feel insurmountable. The recent pandemic period has been a turbulent time for all, placing financial pressure predominantly on low-income families.
Although suicidal thoughts may not directly arise from economic uncertainty alone, it does actbehave as one of the many contributing factors that could potentially deteriorate the mental well-being of a young person.
Shame and Stigma in the immigrant community
First-generation immigrants are no strangers to the oppression of racial trauma and cultural difference. Despite this, there seems to be little in the way of mental health education for minorities. This may make up one of the reasons that children of immigrants exist within a culture fuelled by guilt and shame when accessing support.
Many minorities could feel their mental health issues don’t seem severe enough compared to the monumentally selfless sacrifices made by their parents, and so voicing their problems becomes challenging.
From a young age, without being adequately equipped to manage emotions in a space that encourages expression, minority youth may succumb to ideas of mental and emotional weakness.
Seeking out intersectional communities
Each community possesses unique and defining cultural norms. What could provide mental relief in one group may not be adequate for another. Understanding this in both a professional and interpersonal setting is crucial to building a foundation of mutual understanding and subsequent effective mental health support for people of colour.
While some may prefer public mental health services, others may require faith-based support. Minorities may also feel more at ease talking to someone of the same ethnicity to prevent potential language and cultural barriers.
For example, immigrant communities tend to lean towards faith-based interventions when suicidal thoughts arise. Mosques, churches, synagogues – these sanctuaries of peace connect young people to a higher power and provide them with transcendent and spiritual reasons for their suffering.
Figuring out what support is suitable for the individual opens new opportunities for healing and recovery, free of shame and misunderstandingcommunication.
Useful resources for People of Colour:
General resources for suicide:
National Suicide Prevention Line (988) - https://988lifeline.org/
Suicide is Preventable - https://www.suicideispreventable.org
Supports for Teens - https://theyouthalliance.com/resources/help-hotlines/
Professional help for teens - https://www.teencounseling.com