Suicides rise sharply among black children

May 27, 2015

Suicides among black children aged 5 to 11 years have increased significantly over the past 2 decades while suicide rates among white children have decreased significantly, a new study shows. Both trends have been masked by an overall stable suicide rate among elementary school-aged children.

Suicides among black children aged 5 to 11 years have increased significantly over the past 2 decades while suicide rates among white children have decreased significantly, a new study shows. Both trends have been masked by stability in the overall suicide rate among elementary school-aged children.

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When researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System on 657 children aged 5 to 11 years who had committed suicide between 1993 and 2012, they found that the incidence for black children had almost doubled-from 1.36 to 2.54 per million-whereas the incidence for white children had decreased from 1.14 to 0.77 per million. The overall rate remained stable (1.18 and 1.09 per million, respectively).

The findings were unexpected, in part because blacks usually have a lower suicide rate than whites. The researchers believe that their study is the first national survey to report a higher suicide incidence among blacks than whites of any age.

Suicide was the 14th leading cause of death among black children aged 5 to 11 years between 1993 and 1997, but jumped to 9th place between 2008 and 2012, the researchers note. For white children, suicide ranked 12th as a cause of death between 1993 and 1997, then dropped to 11th place between 2008 and 2012.

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Most of the children who killed themselves were boys, 553 (84%) compared with 104 girls, accounting for almost all of the increase in incidence. The incidence of suicide among black girls rose slightly, but didn’t reach statistical significance. The rate among white girls remained stable.

The overall rate of suicide by firearm decreased during the study period, as did the rate among white boys, but the rate for black boys remained about the same. Firearms caused 116 deaths (18%). Most children, 514 (78%), died by hanging/suffocation. Although the death rate by hanging/suffocation didn’t change overall during the study period, it almost tripled for black boys, from 1.14 to 3.22 per million.

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The researchers cite several factors that might help explain the increase in suicide among black children, including their “disproportionate exposure” to violence, traumatic stress, and aggressive school discipline; the tendency of black children to enter puberty early, amplifying their risk of depression and impulsive aggression; the fact that black children are less likely to seek help for depression and suicidal ideation; and changes in social support and religiosity, which have been thought to help protect against suicide.

The investigators note, however, that it’s hard to tell whether these factors are connected with rising suicide rates. They say further study is needed.