cyberbullying, Online Racism

Study Links Online Racism To PTSD Symptoms In Black Youth, Raising Concerns About Rising Suicide Rates

The study indicates that Black children and teenagers exhibit symptoms associated with PTSD after experiencing racial discrimination.

A new study suggests a link between racism experienced by Black youth online and an exponential rise in the suicide rates of Black youth over the past two decades. A study published on Dec. 31, 2023, in JAMA Psychiatry indicated that Black children and teenagers exhibit symptoms associated with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, after experiencing racial discrimination online.

The study’s authors conclude in their academic paper: “This study found an association between individual online racial discrimination and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and between post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and suicidal ideation. These risk factors are important to consider in continuing studies of the cause of suicidal ideation for Black adolescents in the US.”

The study, experts say, demonstrates a need to determine the specific causes of the spike in suicides within that population. A 2023 report by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered that from 2007-2020, the suicide rate of Black children and teens ages 10-17 jumped by 144%, marking the sharpest rise of any racial or ethnic group. 

Ashley Maxie-Moreman, one of the study’s authors, told NBC News that cyberbullying presents a serious problem for Black youth. “We know that cyberbullying is an issue for all kiddos. But in particular, for our Black youth, cyberbullying in the form of online racial discrimination is a really big issue,” she said.

The survey, of 525 Black children and teenagers between the ages of 11-19, was about racially discriminatory instances directed at a specific individual, such as a racist meme or an explicitly racist message. According to Maxie-Moreman, the participants said they had experienced symptoms of PTSD, including feelings of isolation, persistent intrusive thoughts, and chronic distress. 

Despite discovering that children and teenagers who experienced online racism being more likely to report PTSD symptoms and those who had experienced PTSD symptoms were more likely to report suicidal thoughts, no link was established between directly experiencing online racism and an increase in suicidal thoughts. The authors said additional in-depth studies need to be conducted before establishing any connections between online racism and their relationship to increased suicide or suicidal ideation. 

Dr. Amanda Calhoun, chief resident of Yale University’s Albert J. Solnit Integrated Adult/Child Psychiatry Program, told NBC News that she considered the rise in mental health issues for Black children and teens to be a product of the racism many of them experience. “I really think a primary driver of the declining mental health that we’re seeing in Black children are experiences of anti-Black racism,” said Calhoun. “There is little to no standardized training in how do you help Black children to navigate being a Black child in America and experiencing racism.”

Michael Lindsey, dean and Paulette Goddard Professor of Social Work at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work, also weighed in on the issue, telling NBC News, “Social workers are the largest provider of mental health services.”

Lindsey continued, “So, we need more school social workers and they can be incredibly helpful to ensuring that kids are being identified early when there is a challenge and connected to support from services early and often.” 

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