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Suicide rates among Black youth and adults in Ohio rising at alarming figures

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline marks one year of operation on July 16.
Ryan Levi
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline marks one year of operation on July 16.

Suicide rates among Black youth and Black adults in Ohio have been rising in the last two decades to some of the highest rates of any group in the country.

“For the first time, Black Ohioans have a higher suicide rate compared to white Ohioans,” says Jewel Woods, Founder and Director of Male Behavioral Health Inc. and the Center for Men and Boys.

Health Policy Institute of Ohio reports that for African Americans, ages 10 to 24, suicide rates doubled between 1999 and 2020; from 6.8 per 100,000 people, to 12.8.

For white people, the suicide rates increased by 64% to 11.8 per 100,000.

Woods says there are internal and external factors that make the African American experience different from others.

"Internal factors have to do with some ideas and beliefs about suicide that prevent us from actually seeing it and addressing it,” says Woods. Some of that has to do with just a racialized idea that this is something that Black folks don't do."

External factors that Black people face also contribute to more suicides.

"Discrimination, all the things that we know are associated with structural racism, the denial of opportunities all contribute to an increasing disease burden of depression that makes our situation more acute,” says Woods.

Woods adds that the stigma on mental illness remains in the Black community.

"The stigma of actually not thinking that people understand you and the stigma of thinking that because of your race that you don't have anybody that actually can work with you to help with those issues are some of the main reasons why this stigma actually persists," says Woods. "We think that suicide is something that our resiliency and our strength protects us from. Some of this has to do with a strong religious tradition that suicide is an unforgivable sin."

Woods founded the Black Suicide Prevention Week in central Ohio and has spread the educational effort to five other cities.

"There's this lack of knowledge about suicide, where we think only weak people can get it or crazy people can get it,” says Woods. “And so not understanding that suicide includes things like anxiety, depression, trauma and grief."

In recognition of Black Suicide Prevention Week, A Black Suicide Awareness & Remembrance Vigil will be held on Sunday at Mayme Moore Park, located at 867 Mount Vernon Avenue, from 7 to 8 p.m.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing or texting 988.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.