Suicide Rates Are Rising for a Huge Group of American Youths

This trend hasn't been examined before.

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Suicide attempts in the United States have slowly and steadily risen for the past 13 years. Researchers say worsening mental health issues and money troubles are fueling suicide attempts among adults and that heartbreak often drives teen suicides, but there’s much that scientists still don’t understand about the tragic issue. A new study in JAMA Pediatrics further complicates the matter, showing a troubling trend in suicide rates among one particular group of American youth.

In a research letter published on Monday, a team of researchers found that black children between the ages of 5 and 12 years old have higher incidences of suicide than their white peers. Suicide among children is a worrying mental health trend regardless of racial breakdowns, but the fact that more young black children than white children die from suicide is especially strange because the overall suicide rate for white youths is more than eight times higher than it is for black youths. The study’s authors, led by pediatrics professor Jeffrey A. Bridge, Ph.D. of Ohio State University, found that after age 12 the racial disparity in suicide numbers reverses. They’re still trying to figure out why.

Researchers aren't sure what accounts for the racial trends in suicide among children.

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“Our findings underscore the need to explore potential race-related differences in mechanisms of suicide and to develop more effective suicide detection and prevention efforts for black children,” write the authors. For now, the researchers, funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, seek to simply shed light on this issue, which has not previously received much attention. This study, while highlighting an important issue facing pediatricians, children, and parents, doesn’t shed much light on what’s actually driving suicides among young black children.

To conduct the study, the researchers examined data on children aged 5 to 17 from the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In those data, they observed that from 2001 to 2015, the suicide rate for black youths was 42 percent lower than for whites — 1.26 per 100,000 versus 2.16 per 100,000. But when the researchers broke down the data by age groups, they found that black children between the ages of 5 and 12 had an 82 percent higher rate of suicide than white children of the same ages.

“Our findings provide further evidence of a significant age-related racial disparity in childhood suicide and rebut the long-held perception that suicide rates are uniformly higher among white than black individuals in the United States,” the team writes. By highlighting this nuance, they hope to spur future public health research efforts on the topic.

Data on public health can show us a lot about what’s going on with populations, but as this study shows, sometimes looking at the numbers in a new way can reveal trends that haven’t been observed before. This latest study, showing that young black children are at a disproportionate risk of suicide, can help drive future efforts at prevention.

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