While the suicide rate among young children has remained relatively stable, a new study shows that the number of black kids between the ages of 5 and 11 who commit suicide has almost doubled since 1993.
The research, published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, shows that from 1993 to 2012, there were a total of 657 kids in the age group who killed themselves in the U.S.; 84% were boys and 16% were girls. Overall, the suicide rate was stable over the nearly 20-year period, yet the rate among black children significantly rose while the rate among white children dropped. Why black children were more likely to die by their own hand could not be determined in this study. The researchers say that the apparent racial disparity needs further investigation.
Study author Jeffrey Bridge, an epidemiologist at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told the New York Times that he was “shocked” by the results.
The findings are troubling, and the authors note in the study that historically, the rates of suicide among black children has been lower than the rate among white children. Suicide previously ranked as the 14th cause of death among black children ages 5 to 11 from 1993 to 1997, but it went up to the ninth cause of death in 2008 to 2012. For comparison, among white children, suicide was ranked as the 12th cause of death for the age group from 1993 to 1997 but it dropped to the 11th cause of death from 2008 to 2012.
“Although rates of suicide in adolescents aged 12 to 19 years are roughly 50 times higher than suicide rates in children aged 5 to 11 years, investment in upstream suicide prevention approaches that occur prior to the onset of suicidal behavior may have strong potential to reduce youth suicide rates,” the study authors write.
The researchers call for more studies to understand the trend, and to hopefully determine what interventions might be necessary.