The Crusader Newspaper Group

Suicide rates among Black teens and young adults in Cook County soared in 2020

EDITOR’S Note: If you are struggling with severe depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, please call the hotline for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Suicides soared among Black teenagers and young adults in 2020 and were the highest in five years, according to a Crusader analysis from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The Crusader has learned that suicides among Blacks increased in every age group. And while suicides declined among ethnic groups, they increased among Blacks, according to Cook County data.

Suicide rates among Blacks in Cook County nearly doubled last year to 98, which is the highest in five years. Overall, 451 residents in Cook County died by suicides, the lowest since 2016, when there were 436 fatalities. Among the fatalities were 263 whites, 61 Hispanics and 23 Asians. All three ethnic groups saw declines in suicide rates from the previous year. With 98 fatalities, suicides among Blacks, however, increased. In 2019, there were a total of 57 Blacks in Cook County who took their own life. In 2018, there were 77. In 2017 there were 84, and 65 Blacks died by suicide in 2016. A total of 381 Blacks have taken their own lives during those five years. 293 were male and 88 were female.

Among the 98 Black suicide victims in 2020, 75 were males and 23 were females. Half of the 98 Black victims lived in Chicago, and 43 were just 29 years old or younger. And 39 of them were Black males.

The data spotlights the plight of young Black males, whose lives are already threatened by drugs and gun violence. There is concern that the pressures of living in isolation and unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic may have caused the spike in suicide rates among young Blacks in Chicago and Cook County.

Ten of the 98 Black victims in 2020 were under 18, and 10 were just 19. Twenty-three victims were between 20 to 29, Cook County data show. The youngest Black victim was a 9-year-old boy who died July 7, 2020 after hanging himself in Chicago. More than a month later, a 13-year-old Black girl died on August 13 after she hanged herself. On December 15, 2020, an 8-year-old Black boy died after hanging himself in South Lawndale.

In 2020, 19 Blacks between the ages of 30 to 41 died by suicide and 20 were between the ages of 42 to 55. Many died from hanging or a gunshot wound to the head or the chest.

According to Cook County data, since 2016, a total of 29 Black teenagers have committed suicide and 109 Blacks between the ages of 20-29 have taken their own lives. In fact, the 20-29 age group among Blacks has had the highest number of suicides in the four of the past five years than any other age group. The exception was 2014 when there were 14 suicides among 20- to 29-year-old Blacks, compared to 15 among Blacks ages 42 to 55.

So far in 2021, 118 residents in Cook County have died by suicide. Seventeen of them were Black, 18 were Hispanic and 76 were white. Of the 17 Black victims, one was an 11-year-old Black girl who died of a drug overdose on January 29 in Chicago. Four Black males and two females from ages 19 to 29 all died from a gunshot wound to the head between February 25 to April 9 of this year.

Suicide counselors at suicide hotlines said at the beginning of the pandemic, they struggled to calm callers down.

Unlike previous instances, some said it was not possible to tell depressed callers to sit in the lobby of their apartment building or a restaurant. And with suicide being a stigma among Blacks and most ethnic groups, many are reluctant to reach out for help. For Black males, the challenge could be even more difficult.

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