CLEVELAND, OH – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today hosted a news conference call to discuss the Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act and the mental health challenges affecting young Black girls, amid an alarming rise in suicide deaths.

On the call, Brown spoke with clinical social worker, LaToya Logan, LISW-S, and Dr. Arielle Sheftall. Sheftall recently published a study through the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. It found an increase in suicide rates among young Black children, and among young Black girls in particular.

“We know that because of racial disparities in our health care system, too many young people of color – especially young, Black girls – are not getting the care they need. Warning signs are being missed.” said Sen. Brown. “We know how critical a role health care professionals play in spotting signs that something may be wrong in a child’s life. We all have a responsibility to make sure that our children have access to comprehensive mental health care and supports - so they can thrive. It’s up to us to ensure that we get real resources to our communities to support kids’ and teenagers’ physical and mental health.”

According to Dr. Sheftall’s study, between 2003 and 2017, approximately 1,800 Black children died by suicide. Nearly 40 percent of the girls who committed suicide during this period were between 12 and 14 years old.

“We have seen a shocking increase in suicides and suicidal behavior among Black children over the past decade – with our most recent study showing a substantial increase among Black girls,” said Dr. Sheftall. “We don’t know enough about the risk factors young Black people face, and in order to address the problem appropriately we have to start there. We need to first fund research to understand the risk factors associated with Black youth suicide then we need to work with policymakers to implement change! These changes could include the implementation of appropriate mental health interventions and suicide prevention programming to help Black children who are struggling.”

Logan is a clinical social worker and the Executive Director at Project LIFT, a Cleveland-based organization that aims to level the playing field for at-risk youth, particularly young Black men by exposing them to skills, strategies and principles to help create solid foundations for emotional and financial wellness.

“Disrupting suicide trends in the Black community, particularly with youth requires innovative approaches rooted in culturally reflective practices,” said Logan. “Far too often, professionals focus on behavioral issues, while failing to acknowledge behavioral expressions are connected to a youth's mental and emotional well-being, as well as their environment. We have to take on the role of an objective investigator, listening to the youth and including their culture in the assessment.”

Brown’s Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act, authored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL), will bring increased funding and attention to suicide prevention for children and young adults.

It would:

  • Establish a grant program to provide funding for initiatives that offer youth suicide prevention education, training, and resources to health care professionals.
  • Establish a grant program to integrate suicide prevention topics into curricula at health professional schools, to ensure that future nurses, doctors, and mental and behavioral health care providers have the education and training to prevent these tragedies.

Full text of the legislation can be found here. It has been endorsed by more than 40 leading health care, suicide prevention, and gun violence prevention organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Hospital Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association for Rural Mental Health and Sandy Hook Promise. A full list of endorsing organizations can be found here.

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