Chicago officials have issued a health alert about this year’s stark increase in suicides among Black residents. The uptick comes even as suicide deaths decreased for other racial and ethnic groups. 

The five-page alert, issued by the Chicago Health Alert Network (HAN) on November 5, says that suicides among Black Chicagoans have increased by more than 40 percent in 2020, when compared to a four-year average from 2016–2019. The report also found that Black residents have the highest rates of hospitalizations for suicide attempts. Residents of the city’s South and West Sides, predominantly Black communities with significant barriers to affordable mental health treatment, were hospitalized at elevated rates. 

Officials also found a significant increase in suicides among adults ages 70 and up.

“We know in general that health disparities exist along a Black-White spectrum,” Wilnise Jasmin, the director of behavioral health at the Chicago Department of Public Health, told The Trace. “It’s not surprising that when it comes to suicides, which is another health indicator, that we see such disparities.” 

Jasmin added that Black Chicagoans are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases, homicides, and opioid overdoses. 

The city’s Health Department uses HAN to distribute public information about “urgent” emerging trends to medical and public health officials. The alerts cover a range of developments, from identifying the city’s COVID-19 hotspots to noting upticks in opioid overdoses. 

“In the context of COVID, in the context of civil unrest, one could imagine additional pressures and stress in the lives of Black Chicagoans,” said Matt Richards, a deputy commissioner with the Chicago Department of Public Health.  

The Trace first reported the rise in suicides among Black Chicagoans in June. Using data from the Cook County Medical Examiner, our reporting showed that the county, which includes Chicago, was on pace to record more suicides of Black residents than during any year in the last decade. As of November 8, there have been 83 suicides among Black people in the county, most of which occurred in Chicago. That’s one shy of the total number of suicides recorded in 2017, a 10-year high.

Daniel Nass

Following The Trace’s reporting, both the city and county pledged to draw up suicide prevention plans to address the crisis. Last month, the city announced an $8-million investment to expand existing mental health services across the city. 

Suicides overall have been increasing in the U.S. over the last two decades, including in Illinois, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency’s surveys during the pandemic have found that stress, anxiety, and suicidal ideation are up, particularly for Black people, Latinos, younger adults, and essential workers. 

Daniel Nass contributed data reporting to this story.