Young people participate in suicide prevention programs

Charlotte Harleston, Carlene Williams and London Connolly are part of a team that helps Baltimore psychologists develop suicide prevention programs.

BALTIMORE— Editor’s Note: This story contains content about death by suicide involving children. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.

Suicide rates among black children have continued to rise for decades across the country. However, data shows that this is not the case in Baltimore, Maryland. Charlotte Harleston, Carlene Williams and London Connolly are part of a team that helps Baltimore psychologists develop suicide prevention programs.

The three students were entering Year 9 in the city when they sat down with a team of investigative reporters from 11Alive for an honest discussion about why children their age have suicidal thoughts.

On ‘A Different Cry’, Charlotte, Carlene and London discussed their feelings about race, mental health and how they felt like no one was listening to them. 11Alive decided to create another online story to feature more of their interview to provide additional insight into what they are up against. Here’s more from that conversation.

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Editor’s Note: Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

“Humor to Cope”

According to young teens, suicide is discussed often, and openly, but in a way that wouldn’t raise too many flags. The coping mechanism is often humor.

London: We can often, like, joke with each other on social media [and] in person about suicide, but it’s often not talked about seriously because I feel like these days, in my experience, we use humor a lot to deal with trauma and depression .

Charlotte: I think it’s kind of a way of saying, “It’s a problem, but I can’t talk about it seriously because it hurts a lot to talk about it seriously, because someone I know s committed suicide or attempted suicide”. We don’t talk about it seriously enough with adults.

Carlene: I will often see these people joking about it and jokingly telling me things in their lives that cause them to get depressed or want to, you know, hurt themselves. They will do things… like cutting or things like that, and they will joke about it. But it’s something that actually happens, and it’s serious.

“There is all this pressure to be an adult”

Young people we spoke to said that a lot of the pressure on young black people comes from the pressure to be more advanced than they are ready to be. The American Psychological Association (AMA) published a study in 2014 pointing to similar social perception trends when it comes to young black boys in America.

Charlotte: I mean, the school system is a mess in general, but there is a lot of stress related to school, especially in 5th and 6th – 7th grade. There’s a lot of pressure on kids, kids in that age group, which is really sad. Like one of the things that people will often say, especially to like 7th graders and sometimes 6th or 7th graders and sometimes 3rd graders, is apparently, you know, you’re almost an adult, you have almost grown. You have to start acting like that. You have like there’s all this pressure to be an adult, these responsibilities. You get so much more responsibility and none of that is worth the trust in return.

London: Specifically in the black community, children are expected to grow up quickly or they are treated like adults. They’re suspended at higher rates, and they’re often pushed aside or treated like they can handle more, instead of being given resources to manage their mental health in a healthy way.

Carlene: I also feel like the younger generation feels pressured to grow up too fast…especially because of social media. You’ll look and you’ll see teenagers who dress a certain way, look a certain way, and then someone my age or younger will be like, I should do this, because it’s cool. That’s what people like. And when you’re a child, you don’t mentally have the experience, the knowledge, the ability to do more of a teenager’s or an adult’s thing.

“You don’t feel like you have a place to belong”

Some young black people feel they have a different experience of the school system than their peers. According to data from the US Department of Education, at least 37% of black students said they had been bullied because of their race, English proficiency or disability.

Charlotte: I learned this very young. My elementary school never talked about race at all, and I feel like race is not communicated well in schools.

London: Growing up in the public school system where by default, even here, you as a black kid… you’re seen as unruly. If you do one thing, it is magnified. You could be suspended. You could call the cops. Seeing these things on the news – I go to school the next day and I’m like, I need to adjust. I need to become more presentable. Like even in a way I hate to say that I need to be more “white” like in how other people perceive whiteness. I feel a little constrained. And then it’s also so sad to be in these classes and to see myself changing so much in class to be heard and to have the same chances as everyone else. And then seeing my black classmates next to me being treated differently because they act different and they don’t want to change for their white teachers who just want to see them be different.

Carlene: I don’t belong to this crowd, I don’t belong to this crowd. If I act in a certain way with white people, I will be labeled as ghetto. If I act the same way with black people, I’ll be labeled as trying to act white or something. You don’t feel like you have a place to belong or truly be yourself.

A DIFFERENT CRY: watch the full series

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