In the United States, more black children are dying from suicide than from any other cause, according to a study published by Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA) on Tuesday. All the contributing factors behind the 10-year trend are already well known to mental health professionals but not to readers of general news; common sources of media attention in the case of black youth suicide are the shootings of police officers and more recent threats of violence directed at the Black Lives Matter movement.
State and federal programmes exist to improve the well-being of black youth, including in the fields of education, employment and substance abuse. When lawmakers in the US cut funding for aid programmes, or politicians allow structures to decrease expectations for young people, large numbers of children and adults in these fields will suffer.
But the current study goes deeper, and questions why black children are most at risk, and why this burden is higher in areas with high inequality. There is a lack of information about the causes of youth depression, a term coined to describe the symptoms of psychological suffering in children and young adults. Studies have been attempting to unpick the possible sources of mental health problems for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the United States, federal researchers believe there are three major mechanisms driving the trends seen in the PCA study. The first is poverty, which has been shown to trigger the same behaviours in children as in adults. The second is related to stressful experiences young people have, and their association with high rates of violent crime and underachievement, as well as a history of family stress. The third is homelessness, which has been shown to create conditions in which depression is more likely.