Black children under the age of 13 are twice as likely as their white peers to die by suicide, says a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. The data spans more than a decade, from 2001 through 2015.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.3 million adults (0.6% of the adult population) attempted suicide during 2014. The nationwide suicide rate reached a 30-year high that year.
Suicide rates are increasing among most racial and ethnic groups in America. Yet suicide rates have historically been higher among whites than most other groups. This trend was thought to be true among all ages, but this latest study has challenged that notion.
Suicide Rate Higher Among Young Black Children
The study analyzes federal suicide data on youth ages 5-17 years old. The data covers a fourteen-year period, from 2001 to 2015. There were 1,661 suicides among black youth and 13,341 suicides among white youth.
Overall, the suicide rate among black youth is 42% lower than among white youth. Older black youth have a 50% lower suicide rate. But this trend reverses among the youngest suicide victims, aged 5-12 years. Black children in this age group die of suicide at twice the rate of white children.
The study also mentions prior research on suicide among children 5-11 years old. From 1993 to 2012, the suicide rate among black children increased from 1.36 to 2.54 per million. Meanwhile, the rate among white children showed a decrease of 1.14 to 0.77 per million. In other words, the gap between black and white children seems to be growing.
The study’s authors say their findings emphasize the need for culturally sensitive suicide prevention strategies. Their data did not include information that might explain differences in the suicide rate. The authors suggest future research should explore these factors. More information could help suicide prevention programs assess and improve their effectiveness.
Helping a Suicidal Person
Suicide is a preventable tragedy. Certain risk factors, such as depression, substance use, or impulsive behavior, may be warning signs that a person is suicidal.
Research has also documented a suicide contagion effect. Someone who feels suicidal may be more likely to attempt suicide when exposed to:
- Media coverage of suicide
- A loved one’s suicide
- Graphic suicide imagery
If you or a loved one is having suicidal feelings, therapy can help. People experiencing a crisis can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
- Bridge, J. A., Horowitz, L. M., Fontanella, C. A., Sheftall, A. H., Greenhouse, J., Kelleher, K. J., & Campo, J. V. (2018). Age-related racial disparity in suicide rates Among U.S. Youths From 2001 Through 2015. JAMA Pediatrics. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.0399
- Suicide: Facts at a glance [PDF]. (2015). Atlanta: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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