Surprising Data Shows Suicide Rates of Black Children Rising


A new study has discovered that while the suicide rate of white children has been on the decline since the 1990s, the suicide rate among black children in the same time span has almost doubled.

The study looked into the suicide rate of children aged 5 to 11 between 1993 and 2012.  The results surprised researchers so greatly they gave the study an additional year for the 2012 data to be available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine whether the findings would change.  They did not.

Suicide rates have typically been lower for the black population when compared to the white population at any age.  However, the study found that the suicide rate had risen dramatically among black children, from 1.36 to 2.54 for every one million children, that it was increasingly above the rate for white children, which fell to 0.77 per million in the same length of time, writes Sabrina Tavernise for The New York Times.

“Suicide rates in the U.S. have historically been higher among white individuals across all age groups,” said Jeffrey Bridge, epidemiologist at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, who led the research, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. “We were very surprised to see higher suicide rates among black children over time,” added Bridge, who is also associate professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University.

Carina Storrs for CNN reports the most popular methods of suicide for this age group to be hanging and suffocation, accounting for 78.2% of the suicides looked at in the study.  Shooting, accounting for 17.7% of deaths studied, was the second most common category.  While the rate of death by gun decreased among the white population, no change was seen among black children in the time frame studied.

An increase was found in the suicide rates from hanging or suffocation among the black population.  This rate did not change among white children.

The study used national data taken from death certificates that listed suicide as the cause of death.  While one single cause for the increase was not found, researchers offered a number of explanations, including that black children are more apt to be exposed to violence, or experience puberty at an earlier age, which puts them at an increased risk for depression.  However, the study did not make it known whether or not those traits had changed much over the time period studied.

“Suicide is pretty rare in all kids before puberty,” said Dr. David Shaffer, professor of pediatrics and child psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, who was not involved in the research.  Shaffer did add that as the study showed “a very interesting aberration,” more research on the topic was needed.

Between 1993 and 2012, 657 children between the ages of 5 and 11 committed suicide. However, suicide is around 50 times more common among children aged 12 to 19, being the second leading cause of death in that age group.

The authors suggest that programs to help children prior to displaying suicidal behaviors could help to reduce the suicide rates.