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Task force organizes to tackle suicide in African American community

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BATON ROUGE - In Louisiana, suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10 to 24-year-olds. While suicide among teens is an uncomfortable conversation, state leaders are making it their priority by committing research to finding solutions, especially for African American teens. 

A task force organized by Representative Edmond Jordan is now studying those rates, and they say suicide statistics are worse in the Black community. The group met for the first time at the state capitol Thursday morning. Charmaine Williams with Southern University spoke to the task force about its significance.

"One of the most critically important pieces that we have to do is make sure that we pay attention to our African American community," Williams said.

A CDC study reported that suicide rated for Black individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 rose 36 percent the year 2018 and 2021. In the same time frame, the suicide rates for white individuals of the same age range dropped nearly four percent. 

Dr. Robyn Thomas, Suicide Prevention Coordinator with the Louisiana Department of Health, added to those statistics.

"In 2019 and 2020, there were some decreases in suicide rates nationally, but went back up in 2021," Thomas said. "What they did realize, though, even though there were some decreases there, when you look at racial ethnic groups, there were increases within those groups."

With numbers in mind, now the group wants to understand the rates. 

"We've seen an up tick in the suicide rates among African Americans," Representative Jordan said. "Part of that might be due to COVID. Part of that might be due to isolation, might be due to social media. The fact is nobody has really investigated and studied it."

Representative Jordan says the committee is something he initially proposed in the last legislative session.

"I hope to accomplish -- one, to recognize what the causes are. because once we know the causes, hopefully we'll know how to prevent it," he said.

The group is starting by conducting research through Southern University.

"Once we collect data, we're going to break it down by demographics, looking at males versus females, specific age groups, and figure out what the causes were," Charmaine Williams said.

The hope is that the research can help other communities as well. 

"Although it will affect Louisiananians - hopefully this will be a modern template that we can use to replicate across the country and prevent suicides," Jordan said.

While Thursday's meeting was only the first, the group has until February to submit it's findings.


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