Researchers Stunned by Increased Suicide Rate Among Black Youth

Suicide rates for black children nearly doubled between 1993 and 2012 while suicide rates among white children declined, according to a recent study.

Soaring Risk for Black Kids

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, looked at elementary-school aged children. The youngsters were between the ages of 5 and 11. Its results fly in the face of typical statistics, which normally show higher suicide rates among whites than African-Americans.

The black children’s suicide rate jumped from 1.36 kids per million to 2.56 over the course of the study, while the rate among white children dropped from 1.14 to 0.77. Data was collected from death certificates that listed suicide as the underlying cause of the death.

Gun use as the suicide tool remained steady for black children but dropped among whites, while the number of black kids who hanged themselves nearly tripled.

Reasons Are a Mystery

Researchers were puzzled over the exact reasons for this staggering leap. One of them, epidemiologist Jeffrey Bridge of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, told the New York Times, “I was shocked, I’ll be honest with you. I looked at it and thought ‘did we do the analysis correctly?’ I thought we had made a mistake.”

Black children tend to go through puberty earlier than their white counterparts, which puts them at a greater risk for depression, and they’re also exposed to more traumatic stress and violence in their younger years. However, it’s not clear if those factors rose during the course of the study remained steady despite the soaring suicide rate.

Fortunately, the statistics paint a better picture for black adolescents. Their rate of suicide, and that of their white peers, fell over the same period. However, suicide is still one of the top three leading causes of death for all adolescents between the ages of 15 and 24.

Watch for Warning Signs

Kids who feel suicidal might not be forthcoming about their thoughts, but the National Associate of School Psychologists says you’ll often see warning signs. They include a preoccupation with death, behavior changes, direct or indirect suicide threats, notes, and actions that reflect making final plans. Family dysfunction and major stressors up the risk. Get help for any child who shows these signs.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline helps troubled people of any age. The number is 800-273-TALK.