October marks the celebration of Black History Month, stemming back from 1987 when it was first celebrated in England. Prior to this, the event was originally recognised in America in 1976. Black History Month is the annual celebration of the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK.

It also sets out an opportunity for individuals to learn more about the effects of racism and how to challenge negative stereotypes.

Black History Month is more important now than ever before, especially with there being a significant link between ethnic minorities and those at risk of suicide.

Research shows that the rates of suicide are increasing for Black youth, and between 2009 and 2019, suicide rates increased more than 50% for children between the ages of 5 and 11. For older individuals between the ages of 10 and 19, suicide rates are even higher.

PAPYRUS exist to reduce the number of suicides, and we believe that suicide is preventable.

Understanding the disparities

It is important to recognise that many aspects of lived experience can be unique to minority communities. Racism, discrimination and trauma are all things to consider,

  • Historical trauma and systemic inequities: To comprehend the higher suicide risk among Black communities, we must acknowledge the historical trauma and systemic inequities they have faced. Centuries of racial discrimination, oppression, and economic disparities have taken a toll on the mental health of Black communities. These factors can contribute to feelings of hopelessness, isolation, and despair, all of which are risk factors for suicide.
  • Stigma around mental health: Stigma is a significant barrier to addressing mental health issues in Black communities. The fear of being labelled as weak often discourages individuals from seeking help or discussing their struggles openly. This silence can lead to untreated mental health conditions and an increased risk of suicide.
  • Racism and abuse: Racism, both historical and systemic, plays a significant role in increasing suicide risk within Black communities. Experiencing racism can lead to chronic stress, feelings of hopelessness, and a sense of alienation.

Ways society can work together

  • Promote mental health education: Incorporate mental health education into school curricula and community programs to reduce the stigma and increase awareness from an early age.
  • Support black-owned mental health initiatives: Show support for Black-owned mental health organizations and initiatives that provide resources and services tailored to the Black community.
  • Encourage open conversations: Promote open conversations about mental health within families, education, workplace and religious settings, and community gatherings. Encourage individuals to share their experiences and seek help when needed.

Conversation starters

The relevance of opening a conversation and keeping the conversation going within minority groups can be what saves a life. It is crucial to engage in positive communication, and remember, it’s okay to say, ‘I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I want to understand.’ Listening to an individual’s story and learning more about their background and heritage can be significant.

Talking about suicide can be difficult, but having these conversations, especially with people who may already feel vulnerable within a minority community, is essential. Having open and honest conversations can encourage people to seek support and reduce feelings of shame within a community.

Ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?” It is a common misconception that asking the question can sometimes put the idea of suicide into someone’s head. This is not the case, and studies show that by asking the question directly, you are giving a young person the opportunity to talk about suicide safely.

Other conversation starters can include:

  • “It sounds as though things are hard at the moment. Can you tell me more?”
  • “Can you tell me more about the way you are feeling right now?”
  • “It’s hard and scary to talk about suicide, but take your time and I will listen.”
  • “There are organisations that can offer support, and HOPELINE247 can also provide help and advice. Would you like me to give you their information?”

With suicide being the biggest killer of under 35’s, we need to ensure that the topic is no longer taboo, especially within the black community where suicide is a greater risk factor. Ensuring young people have the opportunity and feel comfortable to tell someone if they feel suicidal is a necessity.

Suicide remains an unspoken topic within many ethnic communities.

Many ethnic minority communities, particularly the black community, have struggles with openly talking about suicide. This is because of several factors, including cultural stigma and institutional racism. has shown that ethnic communities do not engage or trust health services that are designed to support people; this is a barrier that needs to be considered when engaging in mental health and suicide prevention techniques.

It is important for PAPYRUS to share our message of hope and spread awareness of our helpline, HOPELINE247. HOPELINE247 is there for everybody and is a free and confidential helpline that is run by trained suicide prevention advisors. HOPELINE247 does not discriminate, and we would encourage anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide to get in touch and reach out for support.

Black History Month can be a beacon of light to many, with more people speaking out about their experiences and people advocating to destigmatise suicide.

Available resources

There are many useful resources that offer help and guidance for those within the black community needing support with their mental health. Black Minds MatterUK is a fully registered charity connecting Black individuals and families with free therapy by qualified and accredited Black therapists. You can read more about the charity and download their resources, here.

The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network is also a helpful website with resources, including podcasts and videos targeting mental health within ethnic minority groups. This information can be found here.

This #BlackHistoryMonth, let us work together to raise awareness and encourage more communities to have open conversations.

Suicide is everybody’s business.

Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues, don’t hesitate to seek help. PAPYRUS is here for you. Call HOPELINE247 for free, confidential advice and support on 0800 068 4141, text 88247 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org. We’re here to support you all day, every day, whenever you may need us.
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