A stable overall rate of suicide among children age 5-11 over the last two decades obscured a troubling demographic shift: While rates of suicide dropped for white children during that time period, they climbed significantly for black children, a new study found.
In that time period, rates for white children dropped from 1.14 per million in the period between 1993 and 1997 to 0.77 per million for the period between 2008 and 2012. For black children, suicide rates increased from 1.36 per million in the period between 1993 and 1997 to 2.56 per million from 2008 to 2012, according to the study conducted by Nationwide Children’s Hospital and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics on Tuesday.
Suicide is a leading cause of death for school-age children younger than 12, and rates are much higher for boys than for girls, the study says. [This post originally said suicide was the leading cause of death among this age group. That was incorrect. It is among the leading causes of death for children 5-12]. The study includes this graph, which shows the changing suicide rates for black and white boys.
“Our findings suggest questions about what factors might influence increasing suicide rates among young black children,” the study says. “Black children may experience disproportionate exposure to violence and traumatic stress and aggressive school discipline”
Black children are also more likely to experience an early onset of puberty, which increases the risk of suicide, most likely owing to the greater liability to depression and impulsive aggression,” it continues. “Black youth are also less likely to seek help for depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. Nevertheless, it remains unclear if any of these factors are related to increasing suicide rates.”
Suicide prevention organizations say they have taken a new approach with schools in recent years, working to help teachers identify warning signs of suicide and mental health issues at earlier ages.
As those efforts continue, the authors of this study recommend further analysis to identify the factors that may have contributed to racial disparities in this area.
Further reading on suicide and schools:
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.