The suicide rate among young blacks more than doubled between 1980 and 1995, and some researchers wonder whether middle-class life is to blame.
"You don't belong in any world," said Carl Bell, a mental health expert who works with young blacks in Chicago. "You don't belong in the white middle-class, and you don't belong among poor blacks. There is an alienation that occurs."
In 1995, there were 4.5 suicides per 100,000 blacks ages 10 to 19, up from 2.1 in 1980, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week.
The study did not actually assess whether middle-class blacks killed themselves at higher rates than other blacks. Tonji Durant of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control said the adjustment to middle-class life "is one possible explanation" for the increased suicide rate.
Historically, suicide rates have been higher among white youths, but this study shows the gap is narrowing. The rate among young whites was more than twice that among blacks in 1980. But by 1995, the suicide rate among young whites was only 42 percent higher, or 6.4 per 100,000 people.
The rate among young whites in 1980 was 5.4.
Kenya Napper Bello, a black woman in Atlanta whose husband was a Coca-Cola executive who killed himself in 1994 at age 27, said many blacks struggle to maintain their identity in the corporate world.
"It's not so much middle-class as it is trying to assimilate into corporate America and the depression many middle-class blacks have working there," Bello said.
From 1980 to 1995, 3,030 blacks between the ages 10 and 19 killed themselves in the United States. Guns accounted for 66 percent of those suicides.