Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey on Tuesday introduced legislation to combat rising suicide rates among black youth. The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act of 2019 proposes over a billion dollars be used to address the suicide rate among black youth, which is increasing faster than among any other racial and ethnic group.
“There’s over a billion dollars in that legislation addressing different aspects of the gap we have found in service tools and research that we think are very important in addressing what we consider a very critical situation we have with black mental health and youth suicide in this country at this time,” Watson Coleman tells CBS News.
Data from the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows suicide attempts by black adolescents rose by 73% between 1991-2017, while the rate of injury by attempt rose by 122% for black adolescent boys during that same time period.
According to the proposed legislation, the largest sum of money, $650 million, would go to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) — part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — to fund research into mental and physical health disparities between minorities and the rest of the population. Another $100 million would be allotted to the NIH to help build relationships with communities and conduct more patient-based research.
Another $250 million will be used to place more culturally competent mental health services in schools in order to properly treat youth of color.
The rest of the money will be used to develop culturally competent curricula for mental health care professionals, help more students of color enter the mental health field and create interprofessional healthcare teams.
“As a black community, there has always been a sort of stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment,” Watson Coleman said. “We’ve been taught to sort of buck it up. You know how this society is. Be strong. If you’re religious, lean on Jesus and on and on. What we realized is that we have missed the opportunity in many instances to deal with what is illness.”
The legislation was proposed alongside the release of a report titled “Ring The Alarm: The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America,” which was put out by the Congressional Black Caucus’ Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health.
The taskforce, which is chaired by Watson Coleman, worked alongside a group consisting of researchers, doctors, religious leaders and others to produce the report. The working group was led by the executive director of the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, who has conducted key research uncovering rising suicide and attempted rates among black youth.
“The signs of suicides in black youth are overlooked and not well understood,” Lindsey tells CBS News. “Oftentimes, when kids are struggling with psychiatric issues, they’re misinterpreted to the point of being perceived as the kid who is angry or hostile, uncontrollable, and there may be some psychiatric issue that we are not just paying attention to.”