Depression in Black Boys Begins Earlier Than You Think


By Aaron Hunt, MS (Graduate Intern, APA Health Disparities Office) and David J. Robles, BA (Graduate Intern, SAMHSA Office of Behavioral Health Equity)


From 2001 to 2015, the suicide risk for Black boys between the ages of 5 and 11 was two to three times higher than that of White boys, according to a new research letter in JAMA Pediatrics (Bridge, 2018). This concerning trend continues through adolescence as reported by the Nationwide Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Kann et al., 2017). The rates of attempted suicide, including attempts that resulted in an injury, poisoning, or overdose, are 1.2x higher among Black males compared to White males.


These persistent trends are enrooted in life expectancy disparities that Black boys face. The APA Working Group on Health Disparities in Boys and Men recently released a new report on Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic and Sexual Minority Boys and Men, which includes a review of research which may help to explain this increase in suicide in Black boys.


Recent national conversations on suicide have gone past the usual “reach out if you need help” messages to encouraging friends and family to reach out to individuals that they think might be suicidal or struggling with depression. This is undoubtedly important, but to do this, people need to know what depression looks like.  According to the APA report, even professional health care providers have trouble detecting depression among racial/ethnic minority patients.  Men from these groups are diagnosed with depression less often than non-Hispanic white males, and depression may also present itself differently in males as irritability, anger, and discouragement rather than hopelessness and helplessness.


The unique way that depression presents itself in males combined with the underdiagnoses of men of color with depression may intersect to cause further disparities for Black boys. The APA report discusses how Black boys are more likely to be viewed as older, less innocent, and more culpable than others—biased beliefs that may lead to harsher interventions in school starting as early as pre-kindergarten.  In fact, Black boys are over three times more likely to be suspended from school than White students.  These disparities combined with a lack of awareness about what depression looks like in men and boys of color may lead to social reprimand, school suspensions, and expulsion rather than to the mental health care that they need.


Young men of color are also more likely to be caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline as a result of these experiences. Black male high school students are also more likely to miss school due to feeling unsafe in their classroom environment or community, get in a physical fight in or outside the school setting, be a victim of sexual violence, and be a victim of physical dating violence (Kann et al., 2017).  These risk factors remove what might otherwise be protective factors found in school or close social relationships.


There is clearly a need among national conversations of suicide for understanding how the role of masculinity, beliefs and social norms intersect to explain the disparities in health and well-being. As science advances there is a growing body of literature, but also a growing number of questions. Now is the time to leverage the tools and opportunities to make a difference and possibly save a life.



Although Black boys may face unique challenges, most racial/ethnic minority boys and men, as well as their families and communities, are resilient and seek positive growth and health. Having a greater sense of control over social and political forces, culturally responsive interventions, healthy cultural identities, and less rigid notions of masculinity show promise for helping racial/ethnic minority males become more resilient to depressive symptoms. Specifically, helping adolescents learn to display self-control over their emotions, talk with parents or friends, seek help, and have positive relationships with adults can help to build resiliency.


What can we do to reduce depression-related health disparities in boys and men of color?

  • Teachers should take continuing education courses on cultural bias and depression in Black boys to help address the problems they face in a school setting.
  • Clinicians need to stay up to date on best practices in working with racial/ethnic minority boys and men to make sure that they are not missing signs of mental illness.
  • Researchers should continue to study health disparities in boys and men of color as well as how resilience can be formed at a young age and strengthened through the life-course.
  • Community members should consider how to create protective factors for vulnerable boys in their communities (e.g. mentoring opportunities, after-school programs)
  • Policymakers should consider legislation, regulator, and administrative actions for vulnerable boys, and seek to remove systemic structures that marginalize boys and men of color (e.g. disparities in school discipline, school-to-prison pipeline).
  • Everyone can work together to eliminate the persistent exposure to implicit biases and microaggressions in settings where boys and men of color live, learn, work, play, and seek healthcare.


For information on how to promote the behavioral health of boys and men of color and how to use prevention research to guide practice:


Look out for an upcoming blog post related to the health disparities in sexual minority men and boys sections of the APA report.



Bridge, J.A., Horowitz, L.M., Fontanella, C.A., Sheftall, A.H., Greenhouse, J.B., Kelleher, K.J., Campo, J.V. (2018). Age-related racial disparity in suicide rates among U.S. youths between 2001 and 2015. JAMA Pediatrics.

Kann, L., McManus, T., Harris, W.A., Shanklin, S.L., Flint, K.H., Queen, B., Lowry, R., Chyen, D., Whittle, L., Thornton, J., Lim, C., Bradford, D., Yamakawa, Y., Leon, M., Brener, N., Ethier, K. (2017). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States. MMWR Surveillance Summary, 65, 1-174.



Aaron Hunt, M.S. is a summer graduate intern in the APA Health Disparities Office and a rising second-year Ph.D. Clinical Psychology student at George Mason University.  While broadly interested in the intersection of clinical psychology with health, community, and social equity, Aaron has specific research interests in HIV, stigma, bias, disclosure, and social disparities.  In addition to full-time graduate studies, Aaron is also an adjunct professor at a local community college and a proud member of the APA’s Health Equity Ambassadors program.


David J. Robles, B.A. is a summer graduate intern at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in the Office of Behavioral Health Equity (OBHE) and a second-year M.A. Psychology student at California State University, Los Angeles. David is broadly interested in studying the psychosocial processes underlying HIV, substance use disorders and psychiatric diagnosis among underserved communities and related behavioral health disparities. David’s graduate work is supported in part through a RISE NIH M.S.-to-Ph.D. Graduate Fellowship. David is also the Vice President for the MORE Programs Student Advisory Committee, a Campus Representative for the APA’s Society for Health Psychology and was recently selected as a Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar.




  1. Oppression begins before depression. The historical and psychological war to get black men or women to destroy themselves is evident in this piece. Overlooking our own and utilizing others perspectives in psychological science is dangerous in offering treatment options to people of color. What is perpetrated as science and evidenced based practice and an effort to understand the condition of a people in this case, us is often masked efforts by the dominant culture to perpetuate the myths and stereotypes of an inferior people. The sad thing is that people of color who become practitioners are educated with these myths and stereotypes and perpetuate them in the community as a way to develop treatment options when they are doing nothing more than serving their masters and teachers and monetizing the suffering and oppression of black people.


  2. There is no shame in seeking therapy. Black men, and boys alike need to talk
    more about. One thing I’ve found to be and identifier is a loss of interest in social events, Not wanting to be bothered w/people family members outside the home. It’s a hard shell to breakthrough but, not from the outside.
    The friend or love one is trapped on the Inside. The most difficult piece is for the parent or friend to help this person escape from this prison of depression
    without permanent damage and emerge as the person we knew pre-depression. I believe in aggressive therapy to snap them out. And develop new life interests so there’s no time or room for the dark places.


  3. Thank you for this conversation. For over 40 years I have been teaching Kundalini Yoga and training yoga teachers and school teachers and staff ways to utilize the basic technology of breath, specific movement and body postures, along with specifically directed meditations in schools and detention centers. I am convinced that the message in this article is true and our young black boys (and girls) are too often mis diagnosed and not understood nor talked to appropriately. More of such Yoga and mindfulness based techniques need to be utilized in schools, and treatments programs in order to help reach some of the subconscious and early childhood habitual patterns that keep our Black youth feeling like second class citizens mentally and emotionally.

    Thank you,
    Krishna Kaur
    (Founder of Black Yoga Teachers Association, and Y.O.G.A. for Youth)


  4. Thank you for that VERY informative information! I self-published a book titled NO BLOOD IN THE TURNIP: Memoirs of a Codependent/Maple Sudds. A creative non-fiction narrative about raising my two son in a negative destructive home, which eventually leads to disruptive behavior in classroom, high school dropout and incarceration. The book is on Please check it out! And you can google, no blood in the turnip/maple sudds. com


  5. Thank you for addressing this issue. I’m the 1st VP of NAMIHPTNN in Va. Several of us provide a program to local churches entitled, Sharing Hope. It was initially designed to provide information to African American Churches about Mental Illness. We now do outreach in the African American community to inform our community about Mental Illness and we’ll do so in any setting ie. Girl & Boys Club, Camps, Youth Transition Programs, Schools etc. We need additional resources that are culturally relevant. ie. books, movies, handouts, mentor or peer groups


  6. This is great information and While I appreciate all the documented research, one helpful diffusion of depression in our young african American men would be to have strong leadership in the home. There are, unfortunately way beyond a slew of broken homes where the african American father lacks true leadership to provide their sons with true self worth and comfort (emotional) support, without it being deemed a “female thing to do”. Men have feelings just like us. They wonder about everything from their first friends, first kiss, acceptance in school, work and especially family (parents). They are the the first line of love, support and security that we know (boys know their mom will love them but the approval of the “matriarch” (lead male) is essential) if they are going to start off a secure path of leadership. But they cant pass on something they they themselves dont feel. Especially if you are not working or You live in a home and yes you may work but the wife is not only the bread winner but the card holder, mommy still calling in and making decisions for the family, how do you start to talk to your son about something you may not even be sure is going on. How do you give the “leader of the house and this is what a man does” schpiel if you’re not doing just that. This can go on for generations and become a generational epidemic of non growth pattern and no one is talking anymore. Now the young male is left to find his way. That can be very lonely. Then the downhill pattern of self doubt, etc. I am for Therapy which can be great but how do we get them there on a voluntary like father/son without it being mandated. Let the healing begin….


  7. That was article, I know from personal experience that young males at the age of puberty to the at least 18 to 20 have a chemical in balance. As a black single mother I’m glad that I was aware of this and because of that I knew had to deal with the situation with my son.


  8. I’m a mother of a daughter whom committed suicide 5/2018 due to depression it hits Boys and Girls in are Black community a lot I’m as a mother is here to be a voice to help stop the stigma of suicide prevention in are community I’ve opened up a Foundation in the honor of my daughter to help those in need of education and psychological support to help them with their problem they are dealing with in silence to let them know they are not Alone it’s ok not to be ok I’m here to help save a life 🦋


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