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Flow’n with Hope: Reflection on the 2024 MA Suicide Prevention Conference

As a suicide survivor and an educator deeply invested in culturally and linguistically rich communities, I understand the necessity of intentional and sustained efforts to nurture and support our communities effectively. However, the notable lack of diversity at the Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Conference, which is a significant gathering aimed at addressing these issues served as a stark reminder of the systemic challenges that persist in our society.

As the 16-year-old version of Craig surfaced for a peek out into the main stage audience and workshop sessions, Tupac's "So Many Tears" rang in our head.  It poignantly captures the essence of this struggle, echoing the feelings of many who find themselves battling against the odds: "Now I'm strugglin' in this business, by any means... And shed so many tears." These lyrics resonate deeply with the sense of isolation and despair that can accompany such battles, underscoring the need for a compassionate and inclusive approach to mental health support.

The urgency to confront the issue of youth suicide has reached a critical point, especially in light of recent data. The National Institute of Mental Health reports a significant surge in youth suicides during the initial ten months of the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing what historical trends might predict. This alarming increase underscores the pandemic's detrimental impact on the mental well-being of our youth, highlighting the necessity for immediate, culturally attuned interventions.

The Pew Charitable Trusts underscore this concern, noting a marked increase in suicidality among high school students over the past decade. The rise in suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts from 2011 to 2021 is particularly pronounced among female and Black students, signaling an urgent need for focused support and resources for these at-risk groups.

The CDC's observations align with these findings, revealing a 62% spike in the suicide rate among individuals aged 10–24 from 2007 to 2021. This sharp increase, from 6.8 to 11.0 deaths per 100,000, lays bare the escalating crisis and the pressing demand for comprehensive suicide prevention strategies.

Further exacerbating the issue, KFF's analysis of provisional CDC data from 2022 indicates the highest recorded number of suicide deaths in a single year, with a notable contribution from firearm-related suicides. This trend, coupled with increased suicide rates among American Indian and Alaska Native individuals, rural communities, and people of color, necessitates a nuanced approach to suicide prevention. It calls for strategies that address the distinct challenges these communities face, resonating with Tupac's lament: "Lord, I lost so many peers, and shed so many tears."

In navigating these complex issues, the words of Tupac serve as a powerful reminder of the individual and collective struggles that many endure. They underscore the critical need for a compassionate, inclusive approach to mental health support that recognizes and addresses the unique challenges faced by diverse communities.

Fostering Representation in Mental Health Advocacy

While attending this convening, I was deeply struck by the conspicuous scarcity of professionals of color among the nearly 300 attendees. With only about 30 of us present, the absence was not just noticeable; it served as a poignant reminder of the representation gap in a field addressing a crisis that disproportionately impacts Black & Brown youth. This disparity felt especially pronounced in a gathering committed to addressing such critical issues.

As I reflected on this scene, lyrics from A Tribe Called Quest’s "Stressed Out" echoed in my thoughts, resonating with the challenges faced by many in our communities: "I really know how it feels to be, stressed out, stressed out. When you're face to face with your adversity." These words seemed to capture the essence of the struggle against mental health challenges, underscoring the adversity faced by our youth and the urgent need for champions who can truly connect with and advocate for them.

The statistics paint a grim picture, highlighting the urgency of this issue. In 2021, over a fifth of Black high school students reported seriously contemplating ending their lives, a significant jump from 2009. Particularly alarming is the increase in suicide plans and attempts among Black girls, rising from 13.3% in 2009 to 24.3% in 2021. Black boys (and men) have also seen a worrying increase in suicide attempt rates. The severity of these attempts, often requiring medical intervention, underscores the critical need for responsive support, particularly for Black LGBTQ+ youth, whose rates of hopelessness and suicide contemplation surpass those of their heterosexual peers.

This lack of diverse representation at the conference underscored a larger systemic issue contributing to the mental health crisis among Black youth. It highlighted the essential need for our suicide prevention efforts to mirror the diverse identities and experiences of the communities we aim to support.

Embedding Inclusive Resources and Advocacy

In addressing this crisis, we must provide resources that are not only accessible but also culturally attuned and sensitive to the unique challenges faced by our youth. The lyrics of "Stressed Out" further remind us, "We're gonna make this thing work out eventually," emphasizing the need for perseverance and tailored support. Organizations like the Massachusetts Youth Access Centers and the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention are vital, offering a range of support from mental health counseling to suicide prevention resources. Similarly, The Trevor Project and the Black Mental Health Alliance are indispensable in offering specialized services and advocating for culturally competent care, particularly for LGBTQ+ youth and Black communities.

The conference's reflection of a broader diversity gap is a call to action for all educators, community care professionals, and leaders. Our initiatives in suicide prevention must be as diverse and inclusive as the communities we serve, demonstrating to our youth that their experiences are understood and valued.

The alarming statistics, coupled with the powerful narrative of "Stressed Out," underscore the critical need to bridge the representation gap in mental health advocacy. We must ensure that everyone, regardless of their background, sees themselves reflected in the professionals and advocates dedicated to their support. This commitment to diversity and inclusion is not just about providing resources; it's about delivering them through a workforce that mirrors the rich tapestry of experiences and identities within our communities, affirming the value of every life and fostering a sense of hope and belonging.

The critical message we're conveying is undeniable: the evidence is stark, and it's mirrored in the expectant eyes of our youth, who are eager to see themselves reflected in their educational and community environments, including professional gatherings like those held in Massachusetts. We must close this gap, not only for their immediate well-being but also to secure a more inclusive future for everyone.

To effectively tackle these challenges, we must ensure that the resources we provide are not only accessible but also culturally relevant and sensitive to the unique needs of our youth and their families. This is particularly vital for individuals dealing with thoughts of suicide, facing the realities of white supremacy and anti-blackness, or in search of supportive communities. 

Here's a closer look at some crucial resources:

Local and State Resources:

Massachusetts Youth Access Centers: These centers offer a safe space for youth and young adults to receive mental health support, counseling, and connections to other services. They are designed to be accessible and youth-friendly, providing a vital resource for those in need.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention: This coalition provides a range of resources, from local support groups to statewide initiatives, aimed at reducing suicide rates and offering support to those affected by suicide.

Department of Mental Health (DMH) - Youth and Young Adult Services: DMH offers specialized services for young people, focusing on early intervention and support for those with mental health needs, including those at risk of suicide.

Organizations Providing Free Direct Services:

The Trevor Project: Offering crisis intervention and suicide prevention services specifically for LGBTQ+ youth, The Trevor Project is an invaluable resource, providing 24/7 counseling.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Available 24/7, this lifeline provides free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Black Mental Health Alliance: This organization provides access to mental health services tailored to the needs of Black individuals and communities, advocating for culturally competent care and services.

Combating Systemic Challenges Through a Holistic Approach to Black Mental Health:

Confronting the root causes of mental health issues, including systemic racism and anti-blackness, is a crucial endeavor. Leading organizations, such as the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM) and the Black Mental Health Alliance, are at the forefront of this movement, providing essential resources, education, and advocacy to dismantle these pervasive barriers.

To bolster the mental and behavioral health support for the Black community, we recommend a series of actionable steps for government entities at all levels and community organizations:

  • Guarantee that small community organizations and Black scholars have unrestricted access to funding for suicide prevention research and its practical implementation.
  • Increase funding for suicide prevention research, with a specific emphasis on programs that offer training and certification, particularly for individuals from marginalized communities.
  • Create and sustain environments that are safe and nurturing for Black youth.
  • Conduct evaluations of the national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline to gauge its effectiveness, especially in its service to Black youth and other minority communities.
  • Mitigate the financial strains that can arise post-hospitalization and obstruct the continuity of care.
  • Enhance the availability of mental health services that are free or low-cost, within both urban and rural community centers.
  • Engage Black religious organizations in suicide prevention initiatives, leveraging their significant community influence and reach.

In our collective quest for a more inclusive and effective approach to mental health and suicide prevention, we draw inspiration from influential figures such as Nieisha Deed, Ysabel Garcia, Martin Pierre, Ph.D., and Dr. Raquel Martin, Ph.D. Their courage, insights, and steadfast dedication to the cause illuminate the path forward, embodying hope and resilience.

In Conclusion

This journey has reinforced my commitment to advancing mental health support that is not only accessible but also culturally attuned and competent. The imperative is clear: we must unite in this vital mission, creating an environment where everyone feels seen, understood, and valued. Our concerted efforts in this domain are essential for the well-being of our communities and the prosperity of future generations.

The recent Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Conference served as a potent reminder of our progress and the work that lies ahead. The insights gained, combined with the pressing need highlighted by current statistics, underscore the necessity for more inclusive and culturally responsive mental health and suicide prevention strategies. It is time to close the representation gap, ensuring that all individuals, irrespective of their background, have access to the care and support they deserve.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, June 15). [Blog post].

Cvent. (n.d.). [Conference summary page].

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (2023, August). Still ringing the alarm: An update on the state of Black youth mental health and suicide.

Genius. (n.d.). 2Pac – So Many Tears.

Genius. (n.d.). A Tribe Called Quest – Stressed Out.

KFF. (n.d.). A look at the latest suicide data and change over the last decade.

The Pew Charitable Trusts. (2023, March 3). Youth suicide risk increased over the past decade.