Disturbing news regarding elementary school children: Suicide rates have not improved over the past 20 years. We’re talking about kids ages 5-11 years old, who feel such desperation that their only recourse is to take their own life.
Between 1993-2012, as many as 657 children died by suicide. Most of those kids, 84 percent, were boys. While the overall totals remained constant, there was a significant increase in the suicide rate among black children, according to a new study in JAMA: Pediatrics.
“Black children may experience disproportionate exposure to violence and traumatic stress and aggressive school discipline,” said the study authors, led by Jeffrey A. Bridge, PhD, Department of Pediatrics, The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “Black children are also more likely to experience an early onset of puberty, which increases the risk of suicide, most likely owing to the greater liability to depression and impulsive aggression.”
In the earlier years of the study, the suicide rates among white boys were slightly higher than those of black boys. In the most recent years, suicide by black boys more than doubled those by white boys.
The change in demographic was as drastic as the change in method. Suicide by hanging and/or suffocation remains the most common method by this young age group. In 1993, “1.87 hanging/suffocation suicides occurred for every firearm suicide,” said Bridge. “In 2008 to 2012, this ratio increased to 6.45 hanging/suffocation suicides for every firearm suicide.”
Suicide ranks as the 11th leading cause of death among 5-11 year olds. By comparison, suicide was the second leading cause of death in the next age group of adolescents aged 12-19. The number of suicides by adolescents totaled “more deaths in this age group compared with cancer, heart disease, influenza, pneumonia, diabetes mellitus, human immunodeficiency virus, and stroke combined.”
While comparison numbers remain low, and the total number of childhood suicides has remained steady, the larger concerns should be that 1) the totals have not decreased and 2) the number of suicides by black children has increased significantly.
Dr. Bridge concludes that more work needs to be done “for early detection and culturally informed interventions.”