Rise in Suicide by Black Children Surprises Researchers
By <http://www.nytimes.com/by/sabrina-tavernise> SABRINA TAVERNISEMAY
The suicide rate among black children has nearly doubled since the early
1990s, while the rate for white children has declined,
<http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2293169> a new
study has found, an unusual pattern that seemed to suggest something
troubling was happening among some of the nations most vulnerable citizens.
Suicide among children ages 5 to 11, the age range the study measured, is
rare, and researchers had to blend several years of data to get reliable
results. The findings, which measured the period from 1993 to 2012, were so
surprising that researchers waited for an additional year of data to check
them. The trend did not change.
Suicide rates are almost always lower among blacks than among whites of any
age. But the study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on Monday,
found that the rate had risen so steeply among black children to 2.54 from
1.36 per one million children that it was substantially above the rate
among white children by the end of the period. The rate for white children
fell to 0.77 per million from 1.14.
It was the first time a national study found a higher suicide rate for
blacks than for whites of any age group, researchers noted.
I was shocked, Ill be honest with you, said Jeffrey Bridge, an
epidemiologist at the Research Institute at Nationwide Childrens Hospital
in Columbus, Ohio. I looked at it and I thought, Did we do the analysis
correctly? I thought we had made a mistake.
The researchers used national data based on death certificates that listed
suicide as the underlying cause. In the study, they offered a few possible
explanations for the difference, including that black children are more
likely to be exposed to violence and traumatic stress, and that black
children are more likely to experience an early onset of puberty, which can
increase the risk of
nline=nyt-classifier> depression and impulsive aggression. But it was not
clear whether those characteristics had changed much over the period of the
study and would account for the sharp rise.
professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis, who has
studied suicide among black youth and did not take part in the new research,
pointed out that suicide had long been one of the few negative health
outcomes that have affected blacks less than whites.
A departure from that trend happened from the mid-1980s to the 1990s, when
rising suicide rates among black teenagers narrowed the gap with white
teenagers. One hypothesis was that the rate was driven up by easier access
to guns; another was that there had been a cultural shift, in which young
blacks were not as religiously observant as older blacks. In that thinking,
religious faith had conferred a protective quality that had made older
blacks less vulnerable to suicide.
What it means to grow up young and black has changed, Professor Joe said.
Something happened that put black teens at risk.
He added, I find the rates for children even more troubling, because they
are the most vulnerable.
The finding seemed to buck other trends by race. Among adolescents of both
races, for example, the rate declined over the same period, falling for
blacks more than for whites, according to figures Dr. Bridge provided. The
rate for black boys rose sharply. The rate for black girls also rose, but
the change was not statistically significant, he said.
The way the children were dying seemed to provide some clues. Dr. Christine
Moutier, chief medical officer for the
<http://www.afsp.org/preventing-suicide> American Foundation for Suicide
Prevention, who read the study, pointed out that gun deaths among white boys
had gone down by about half while staying about the same for black boys,
signaling that gun safety education may not be reaching black communities as
effectively as white ones.
Suicides by hanging, on the other hand, roughly tripled among black boys,
while remaining virtually unchanged for whites.
He uncovered something very significant in the data, she said, referring
to Dr. Bridge. Viewed over all, that age group looked like it was flat.
She said the traditionally lower rates for blacks had often been attributed
to strong social networks and family support, religious faith and other
cultural factors. That makes me wonder whether there is something in those
protective factors that may have shifted in the wrong direction over those
two decades, she said.
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