Suicide Rate Among Black Children Increases, Study Says

Black boy in bicycle helmet looks sadAccording 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.”

Though a number of issues may contribute to the hopelessness black children feel, recent high-profile stories about police shootings of black men gave birth to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. According to the NAACP, blacks are incarcerated at six times the rate of whites, with one in six black men incarcerated as of 2001. Five times as many whites as blacks use drugs, yet blacks are 1000% more likely than whites to be sentenced to jail or prison for a drug crime. For some black children, media portrayals of black people, 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.”

References:

  1. Criminal justice fact sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet
  2. Suicide [PDF]. (2012). Atlanta: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  3. Suicide prevention. (2015, March 10). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/youth_suicide.html
  4. 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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  • zoe

    zoe

    May 22nd, 2015 at 2:00 PM

    Look at the world we live in and the lack of chances that black kids have to succeed. I think that even the youngest of our children know that they are going to have to fight extra hard to get anywhere in life. If you don’t feel like you have that in you, then that can be a pretty daunting thing to consider. It’s pretty easy to see how someone could give up hope as a result of that.

  • Dwight

    Dwight

    May 23rd, 2015 at 1:03 PM

    I honestly feel like these incidents of racism that you talk about have to be very few and far between. If the country is such a bad place why are there people form all over the world who would do anything that they could to get here and stay here? I am not saying that these things don’t happen, because i know that they do, but I just have to feel like they are isolated and do not happen nearly as much as we all think. The media highlights it every time that this happens once, but how many times that it doesn’t happen do we ever hear about that? Never.

  • Cris

    Cris

    May 25th, 2015 at 8:52 AM

    Getting teachers involved could help

  • Vic

    Vic

    May 26th, 2015 at 1:49 PM

    Cris- while I agree with you our teachers are already so overworked that it is going to take more than classroom intervention to stop this rise in numbers.

  • A Baldheaded Man

    A Baldheaded Man

    June 7th, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    Has anyone seriously considered that we as black people are just “chronically cursed”? I don’t know if it has been since Bible times are not (curse of Ham) but you have to acknowledge that Blacks have had a special brand of mistreatment for centuries now and there is no apparent end in sight. Africa is full of plagues, wars, desertification, famine, diseases, etc. African-Americans: an unarmed black man gets shot dead by police at least once a week, black on black violence, HIV, highest rates of everything else bad, highest unemployment, most incarcerated, most victimized by scams, most insulted at work or on TV, least trusted, most offensive to other races when intermarrying… We should at least commend ourselves everyday for continuing on under the circumstances.

  • Avery Jarhman

    Avery Jarhman

    December 7th, 2015 at 8:31 PM

    Has anyone considered the rise in elementary school children believing their lives are not worth living could be a result of America’s expanding and shameful *National Epidemic of Childhood Abuse and Neglect*, aka *Poverty*, that for more than two generations has deprived untold numbers of American kids from experiencing and enjoying a fairly happy American kid childhood with *Safe Streets* to travel and play on.

    *Child Abuse and Neglect* that is primarily responsible for populating our prisons with depressed, angry, frustrated, undisciplined, unpredictable, sometimes suicidal teens and adults full of resentment for irresponsibly being introduced to a life of hardships and struggles.

    *Early Childhood Abuse and Neglect* that often leads depressed, sometimes suicidal *(NY Times May 18, 2015 – Rise in Suicide by Black Children Surprises Researchers)* children to develop into depressed, angry, frustrated, unpredictable, sometimes suicidal teens and adults lacking empathy and compassion for others, though needing to vent their pent up negative emotions, often causing emotional and physical harm to peaceful people…instead of venting their anger, resentment and pain on the immature single moms and/or dads who introduced them to a life of pain and struggle by irresponsibly building a family before acquiring the practical skills, *PATIENCE* and means to successfully raise and nurture a developing young child who matures into a fairly happy responsible teen and adult with mostly fond memories of his or her childhood.

    The question all concerned, compassionate Americans should seriously be asking ourselves, our elected, civil, social, community and religious leaders is, what real, substantial changes in our society’s attitude and laws need to occur to prevent abuse that often causes young kids to mature into depressed, frustrated, angry teens and adults as a result of experiencing the *emotional and/or physical trauma of an abusive childhood?*

    knutesniche.wordpress.com/victim-of-abuse/

    Black *(Children’s)* Lives Matter; Take Pride In Parenting; *End Our National Epidemic of Child Abuse and Neglect*; End Community Violence, Police Fear & Educator’s Frustrations

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