A new study finds that suicide rates for black children ages 5 to 11 have leapt in recent years, while decreasing for white kids.
A surprising and troubling story in the New York Times this week reports that suicides among young black children have nearly doubled in recent years, while rates have declined for white children.
Children ages 5 to 11 were the focus of the study, published this week in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. It’s the first time a study has found higher suicide rates for blacks than whites in any age group. Researchers were so surprised by initial results that they expanded their database.
Among adolescents of both races, suicide rates dropped over the time period studied, 1993 to 2012, with a bigger decline among blacks.
So why are more elementary-age black children killing themselves?
Researchers offered possible explanations including greater exposure to violence and earlier onset of puberty compared to whites, but it’s unclear those factors had changed in recent years.
Dr. Kevin Washington, president-elect of the Association of Black Psychologists, told UU World a number of changes in the past decade or so could be involved: the collapse of the housing market, which fragmented many families; exposure via the Internet and other media to extreme violence that kids are too young to process; more school stress due to emphasis on standardized tests; and increased awareness of racism and racial inequities.
“These can breed despair and hopelessness,” he said, “and we have to do a better job of supporting our children.”
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Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.
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