Researchers have found that between 1993 and 2012, the suicide rate for very young black children, between the ages of 5 and 11, nearly doubled. The increase was driven almost entirely by the suicides of young black boys, who took their own lives in numbers that rose steeply over the nearly two-decade study period. Suicides among young black girls remained essentially level, while the rate of suicide among white children of the same age dropped.
According to researchers, the suicide rate among black boys rose from about 1.8 to nearly 3.5 per one million children. That increase was enough to raise the overall rate of suicide deaths of black children aged 5 to 11 from 1.36 to 2.54 per one million. According to the New York Times, researchers were so stunned by the findings they were concerned about a data error, and delayed the release of their statistics by a year while they double-checked the numbers. The figures held up under scrutiny.
Contrast those findings with the suicides of white children aged 5 to 11, which declined significantly in the study period. Between the years 1993 and 2012, the number of suicides of white children in the aforementiond age cohort fell from 1.14 per million to 0.77. More specifically, the suicide rate among white boys fell from 2 to approximately 1.3 suicides per one million children.
Researchers also noted that gun deaths among white children in the study decreased by 50 percent, while remaining steady among black children. Hanging/suffocation, which was the primary means of suicide overall, increased significantly among black boys, rising by nearly one third.
While health outcomes have long been poorer for African Americans than for white Americans, this marks the first time blacks have outpaced whites in suicide rates for any age group. A number of theories have been posited in trying to determine the underlying cause of the change in those numbers, from the higher likelihood of exposure to violence and trauma among black children, to increases in depression, but researchers note they would need further studies to determine if those factors had also increased in the same time period. The numbers are particuarly sobering in light of other death statistics for young black people, particularly boys and men.
The study was conducted by looking at the causes of death in 657 cases of suicide among children ages 5 to 11 from 1993 to 2012. Of the total, boys made up the overwhelming majority of those who had taken their own lives, at 84 percent.
To see the study in its entirety, visit the JAMA Pediatrics site.
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