Black Kids Under 13 Twice As Likely to Kill Themselves As Whites of Same Age

Depression suicide mental health
A young woman suffering from depression has her hands held in support by a friend. Newscast Online

In the United States, suicide rates have historically been higher among white people than black people across all age groups. However, new research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics has found that for black children between 5 and 12, the suicide rate is twice as high as that for white children of the same age.

The findings provide evidence of a significant age-related disparity that contradicts the long-held perception that suicide rates are uniformly higher among whites than blacks in the U.S., according to Jeff Bridge, lead author of the study and director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

To reach their findings, researchers examined data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding the suicide deaths of young Americans aged 5 to 17 between 2001 and 2015.

In this period, they found that suicide rates for black youths overall was about 42 percent lower (1.26 per 100,000) than that for white youths (2.16 per 100,000), reflecting the national trend among all age groups. They documented 1,661 suicides among blacks and 13,341 among whites.

However, when this larger age group was split into 5- to 12-year-olds and 13- to 17-year-olds, a significant difference became apparent: Black Americans in the younger group were twice as likely to kill themselves.

Studies such as this are important in identifying trends in suicide rates. However, they don't explain what factors may be influencing these trends and why there are differences between racial groups. Nevertheless, Bridge speculates as to what factors can be ruled out.

"The large age-related racial difference in suicide rates did not change during the study period, suggesting that this disparity is not explained by recent events, such as the economic recession," he said in a statement.

One of the reasons for carrying out the research was to highlight that very young children of all races are at risk of suicide, said Joel Greenhouse, a professor of statistics and data science at Carnegie Mellon University and a co-author of the study.

While suicides among 5- to 12-year-olds are rare, they are perhaps more common than you think—between 1999 and 2016, there were 1,430 suicides in this age group, according to CDC data.

"It is also important to note that the homicide rate for black youths aged 13 to 17 is between five to seven times greater than for white youths and may indeed be a competing risk for suicide in this age group," Greenhouse said. "This is a question that we are continuing to investigate."