Suicide rates in the US have dramatically increased for black kids

The suicide gap has widened.
The suicide gap has widened.
Image: Reuters/Alejandro Bringas
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Suicide is a leading cause of death among kids under 12. But while the trend is improving for white children, it is getting far worse for black kids.

Between 1993 and 1997 and 2008 to 2012 the suicide rate among black boys, aged 5 to 11, nearly doubled. During the same period, the rate among white children fell dramatically. Here’s the data:

The combination of fewer white kids killing themselves and more black kids taking their own lives resulted in the overall suicide rate among all children remaining stable, according to a study published last year in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The study did not look into the causes for the discrepancy, but noted that black children are more exposed to violence, traumatic stress, and aggressive school discipline. The results were so surprising that the researchers waited an extra year to check the data, the New York Times reported.

“I was shocked, I’ll be honest with you,” Jeffrey Bridge, an epidemiologist at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio told the New York Times. “I looked at it and I thought, ‘Did we do the analysis correctly?’ I thought we had made a mistake.”

Among all age groups, suicide rates tend to be lower among blacks compared to whites. Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, wrote about the report, citing the importance of reaching young black boys through teaching, mentorship, and kindness.

She quotes Dr. Sean Joe, the Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis who is an expert in black mental health and black male suicide talking about young black boys:

“They’re operating with a straightjacket. They’re operating with how tough they’ve got to be to defer some of the experiences they’re having, and at the same time, we have people who tell them that ‘men don’t cry. Toughen up, okay? Stop being soft.’”

He said that instead of telling them to be tough, they needed emotional support and better ways to express themselves.