Surprising Increase in Suicide Among Black Youth, Unsurprising Likely Causes

Historically the suicide rates for black children of all ages in the U.S. have always been lower than their white counterparts. But that may soon change.

For the first time, over the past two decades the suicide rate for black school-aged children ages five to eleven has nearly doubled while the suicide rate for white children under 12 has decreased, according to a recent pediatric study.

In the study, led by Dr. Jeff Bridge of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital of Columbus, Ohio, researchers documented the suicide rates for 657 children ages 5 to 11 over two five-year periods (1993 to 1997 and 2008 to 2012). The results concluded that while the overall suicide rates for elementary-age children have remained stable, the rates for black children have significantly increased (from 1.36 to 2.54 per 1 million) and the rates for white children have noticeably decreased (from 1.14 to 0.77 per 1 million).

Dr. Bridge and his colleagues suggested in their article, published in the May “JAMA Pediatrics” Journal, that the increase among black children can likely be attributed to excessive exposure to violence, traumatic stress, excessive discipline in school, early puberty, and changes in social and religious support.

Early Puberty, Violence and Trauma

Early puberty, which is defined as occurring at age 8 for girls and 9 for boys, has also become more prevalent among black children, presenting itself in nearly 28 percent of black children, compared with less than 7 percent of white children. Early puberty has been linked to depression and poor academic performance, among other psychological problems.

Black youth are twice as likely to experience violence than white and Hispanic children, and they also experience higher rates of maltreatment.

Social and Religious Support

While numbers fail to exist for the number of children utilizing social media, the data for black teen and adult internet and social media usage is significant. According to the Pew Research Center, black teens are more likely than those of other races to have access to a smartphone and to also use the internet. A study conducted by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology says “there is increasing evidence that the Internet and social media can influence suicide-related behavior.”

And while religiosity hasn’t waivered much within the black community, there has been a slight decrease. Historically blacks have preferred and relied on their religious communities to support

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