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Suicides Among Black Children Rise as Rates for Whites Drop: Study

A new study has found that black children under age 12 are committing suicide more often than they did 20 years ago, while white children are committing suicide less.

by Liz Fields
May 19 2015, 7:15pm

Photo via Getty

Black children under the age of 12 are committing suicide at nearly twice the rate they did roughly two decades ago, while white children of the same age are committing suicide less, according to groundbreaking research focused on rates of suicide among children aged 5-11 in the United States. 

The study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, highlights a surprising trend and "potential racial disparity that warrants attention," researchers said of the the findings. 

While overall suicide rates remained steady among 5-11 year-olds during the 19-year-study, conducted from 1993 to 2012, suicide rates among black children in this age group jumped from 1.36 to 2.54 per one million children, while white suicide rates in the group dropped from 1.14 to 0.77 per 1 million children, according to the study.

The researchers noted that for children aged between 5-11, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death. But little is still known about the source and cause of these statistics, mainly because past studies have focused on children who commit suicide just before or after they hit adolescence, the researchers said.

"Suicide is very rare in children under the age for 10, and in the US there are fewer than 10 of these deaths each year," the study's lead researcher Jeff Bridge, of the Research Institute at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Institutional in Ohio, told VICE News. "Most of the research has focused on those 10 years or older."

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Bridge said he initially began the study after a journalist contacted him roughly two years ago following the suicide death of a young child.

"The reporter asked what the frequency was of suicide among very young children, and I wanted to give an exact number and I went to the data and couldn't find a source," he said. "We wanted to do a study to fill that gap in our knowledge."

Bridge said the higher suicide rate over time for black children highlighted in the report were surprising given that, "Historically white individuals in the US have had higher suicide rates across all ages."

The increase in suicide rates among young black children also appears to be at odds with overall trends among African American suicides across the country. Between 1993 and 2002, the rate of suicide among black people of all ages showed a small but steady drop, according to statistics compiled by the American Association of Suicidology (AAS).

In those years, death by firearm was the most common method of suicide among African Americans, accounting for more than 48 percent of all suicides, while suffocations at roughly 27 percent was the second most prevalent method, the AAS figures showed.

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In Bridge's study, suicide by hanging or suffocation had increased significantly in young African American boys, almost tripling over the course of the study period, while numbers remained basically the same for white boys of the same age.

While Bridge said the study was not designed to look at the reasons why such young children are committing suicide, he hopes that future research "will shed light on that question."

The researchers are now undertaking a follow-up study on the causes of suicide among young children compared with early adolescents, he said.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields