How Could Medical Racism Fuel Soaring Black Youth Suicide Rate? Answers and Solutions

Black children ages 5 to 12 are twice as likely to die by suicide as their white counterparts, and the rate of suicides among Black teens is rising faster than any other racial/ethnic group.

Those statistics are alarming to most people, but they’re not surprising to Yale Child Study Center (YCSC) Chief Resident and Child Psychiatry Fellow Dr. Amanda J. Calhoun.

“Experiences of anti-Black racism affect kids before they are even born,” says Dr. Calhoun.

The stress of anti-Black racism on Black mothers, including experiencing inferior care by health care providers, has been linked to low birthweight babies, putting Black infants at greater risk for developing depression and other mental health disorders.

In addition, racist beliefs start to become ingrained in children as young as four years old, which means that Black children start to experience racism from their peers and teachers as early as preschool.

“It’s not the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s the preschool-to-prison pipeline,” says Calhoun. Black children are more likely to be suspended from or arrested in school than their peers.

When they seek help, Black children are the most likely to be physically restrained in emergency departments. And they are more likely to be diagnosed with disruptive mood disorders than white children with comparable symptomatology.

“You have people who are traumatized, who are being traumatized, by people who are supposed to help them,” says Dr. Tichianaa Armah, Chief Psychiatry Officer and Vice President of Behavioral Health at Community Health Center, Inc.

“Of course, they are going to have poor mental health outcomes,” says Dr. Calhoun.

Dr. Armah and Dr. Calhoun tell “Conversations on Health Care” hosts Mark Masselli and Margaret Flinter that they have seen the effects of this early trauma up close in their work and are exploring what measures can be taken to protect young Black lives.

Dr. Calhoun is leading a Black Youth Mental Health Clinical Case Conference Series at Yale University where experts will weigh in on complex clinical cases involving Black youth presented by YCSC trainees, please learn more here:

But she is doing things a bit differently. “In a typical case conference, we talk about the problematic behavior of patients,” says Dr. Calhoun. None that she has seen have asked “What if one of the primary causes that has led to the lapses in care of this Black child is the medical racism of the team?”