According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a million adults in the United States attempted suicide in 2010, with nearly 16% of students seriously considering suicide at some point during the last year. For young people between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third-leading cause of death, claiming 4,600 lives each year. Among children ages 5 to 11, suicide is relatively rare. According to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics, suicide rates among black children in this age bracket nearly doubled between 1993 and 2012.
Suicide Increases Among Black Children
Because suicide is rare among the youngest children, researchers culled 20 years of data to evaluate the phenomenon. Researchers found that the suicide rate among blacks of any age was almost always lower than the rate among whites. But their research revealed that suicide rates rose among black children at the same time that they dropped for whites. Specifically, researchers found that the rate had risen from 1.36 black children out of every million, to 2.54 children out of every million. Among whites, the rate dropped from 1.14 per million to .77 per million in the same time period. This, researchers say, is the first time any study has found a higher suicide rate for blacks.
What’s Behind the Numbers?
Tonya Ladipo, LCSW, a therapist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, told GoodTherapy.org it’s important to consider what’s behind these numbers. “It’s shocking to learn that the suicide rate has risen drastically among our black youth. When we think of suicide, it’s the ultimate form of hopelessness and not believing that there’s a world or future that you can imagine living in. #BlackLivesMatter is a campaign that has been with us for many months. But it’s hard to reconcile the idea that black lives matter with the constant and blatant disregard for black lives, especially those of black males. The increased suicide rate may be more a reflection of the hopelessness, not lack of familial or spiritual support, amongst black youth.”unfair treatment in a variety of circumstances, a parent’s incarceration, and similar issues resulting from inequality may play a role in the decision to commit suicide.
Kimber Shelton, PhD, a psychologist in Duncanville, Texas, says that racism may figure prominently in the decision to commit suicide. “Racial microaggressions are subtle, often innocuous comments or gestures that communicate disparaging messages about a specific racial group. For example, a colleague’s 5-year-old son was told by a white teacher to wipe off a board until the cloth was as ‘black as [his] face.’ This sends a hidden message that African Americans are unclean. Unlike overt forms of racism that are easily recognized, the hidden nature of microaggressions increases black boys’ chances of internalizing negative messages about themselves, which places them at an increased risk for depression,” she said.
According to Shelton, police violence may undermine black children’s sense of self-worth. She explained, “As evidenced by the growing accounts of police violence toward unarmed African-American men, African-American males live within a society that dehumanizes their identities. Inferior treatment does not wait until adulthood; it initiates when black men are boys. Unfortunately, mental health stigma within the African-American community dissuades many African Americans from seeking therapy. Being treated as second-class citizens, yet failing to seek mental health therapy impedes on the treatment of depression and suicidal ideation for black boys.”
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- Tavernise, S. (2015, May 18). Rise in suicide by black children surprises researchers. Retrieved from http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/05/19/health/suicide-rate-for-black-children-surged-in-2-decades-study-says.html?_r=2&referrer=
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