McSilver Joins Congressional Black Caucus Effort to Address Youth Suicide

PUBLISHED ON May 1, 2019

Photo of speakers at the event on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 30, 2019) — The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) launched a new, emergency taskforce focused on the growing problem of suicide and access to mental health care among Black youth. Chaired by Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), The CBC Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health will convene experts in Washington, DC and around the country, raise awareness among Members of Congress and staff, and identify legislative recommendations to address this mental health crisis. 

The taskforce will seek to identify causes and solutions and will empower a working group of academic and practicing experts led by Dr. Michael A. Lindsey and the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University, with the goal of developing and producing a report from the Taskforce by the end of 2019. Rep. Watson Coleman hosted the taskforce launch at the U.S. House of Representatives, at which CBC Chair Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) spoke, along with other lawmakers belonging to the taskforce, as well as several experts belonging to the working group. 

An archived version of the video is on the Facebook page of Rep. Watson Coleman.

A Twitter thread posted by NYU McSilver describes the launch and panel discussion.

More details about the taskforce and working group are below.

“Our children are facing trauma, they are struggling with racial stigmas, they are bullied for sexual orientation and gender identity and more, and these challenges are crushing them. We need to identify each of the causes to move toward a wholistic solution, and we need to do it quickly,” said Watson Coleman. “This taskforce will be both urgent and mission driven, raising awareness and proposing concrete Congressional policies to improve access to mental health care for Black youth and bring down rising suicide rates.”

“We can no longer stand aside and watch as the youth in our community continue to struggle with depression, traumatic stress or anxiety,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “The suicide rate among Black youth is growing due to the lack of access to mental health resources and the stigma around mental illness.  Under Rep. Watson Coleman’s leadership, this taskforce will work to address the social and economic factors that have led to this crisis while partnering with experts and parents to educate communities across the country about the warning signs associated with suicide. I look forward to working with my colleagues to change this staggering statistic and save our youth.”

In 2018, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics published a report that found that for the first time in the history of such research, the rate of suicides for Black children between the ages of five and 12 has exceeded that of White children, and more than a third of elementary school-aged suicides involved Black children. 

“Given the disparities that youth of color face in accessing and using mental health services, we would like to thank Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman and the Congressional Black Caucus for their leadership and vision in creating an emergency task force to address their needs,” said Dr. Lindsey, a child and adolescent mental health services researcher and Executive Director at NYU McSilver. “Our own research at NYU McSilver examines mental health treatment disparities and the troubling trends regarding the rising rates of suicide attempts among black youth, signaling an urgent need for attention to the mental health needs of the black community. Therefore, we join the task force members in sounding the alarm and calling for more funding, training and staffing for mental health services in schools and other places where young people can access them. We look forward to leading the working group assigned to the task force, as well as working closely with the Congressional members who have dedicated themselves to this effort.”

“For African American youth—and youth of marginalized groups—very little research exists to support best practices and even less exists to form an evidence base for the treatment of mental illness,” said working group member Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, CEO, The AAKOMA Project and Center, PLLC “The Task Force is critical for sounding the alarm on the unique needs of this population and for galvanizing researchers, clinicians and policymakers to prioritize the needs of these youth. I am honored to be a researcher on the ground floor of this work and to partner with Congresswoman Watson Coleman in this endeavor.”

“African American youth are more likely to face adverse social determinants of health and mental health,” said working group member Dr. William Lawson, Medical Director, Urgent Care Center, DC Superior Court and Professor Emeritus at Howard University and Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. “As a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other consequences have become more common and contribute to an increasing suicide rate — despite the availability or effective treatments. Lack of awareness by the public has meant that African American youth are much more likely to be criminalized than treated, leading to the cycle of in and out of prison, and why the correctional system has become the primary provider of mental health and substance abuse interventions. We look forward to working with this taskforce to address the needs of our youth in a supportive and effective way.”

"Students who do not feel safe and affirmed cannot be expected to demonstrate what they know and learn. All of the data tells us that hate crimes are on the rise and that bullying is rampant in our schools but too often we push past these statistics and ignore the stories of the children behind them. Stories of children who deserve the love, support, and protection needed to figure out who you are and how you want to show up in the world. Black children deserve to grow up too, all of them."

Additional experts who briefed the taskforce at the launch event included Dr. Sherry Molock, Associate Professor, Clinical Psychology at the George Washington University; and David J. Johns, Executive Director, National Black Justice Coalition, Doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Over the next several months, Watson Coleman hopes that additional taskforce forums in Washington, DC aimed at untangling the social, economic and societal factors that have led to this crisis will raise awareness among Members of Congress; simultaneously the taskforce will seek to host events nationwide in order to educate parents and other community leaders, enabling them to be the “first responders” that recognize warning signs and connect youth to the appropriate support networks.

Watson Coleman hopes to be able to introduce legislation based upon the findings of the report shortly after its release.

Members of the taskforce include:

  • Alma Adams (NC-12)
  • Emanuel Cleaver II (MO-05)
  • Danny Davis (IL-07)
  • Alcee Hastings (FL-20)
  • Jahana Hayes (CT-05)
  • Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30)
  • Barbara Lee (CA-13)
  • John Lewis (GA-05)
  • Ilhan Omar (MN-05)
  • Ayanna Pressley (MA-07)
  • Frederica Wilson (FL-24)