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Young Black Children Are Twice As Likely To Commit Suicide As Their White Peers

Tony Dejak
Students watch as four doves are released Monday, April 10, 2006 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio for Aleyshia Hayes who was killed in a fire. A new study found a substantial racial disparity in suicides for children five through 12.

The suicide rate among young black children is double that of their white peers, according to a new study co-authored by a Carnegie Mellon University statistician. 

Racial disparities persist in medical and health care, from infant mortality to trauma. In general, suicide rates are higher for white people over black people. 

The study looked at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data of reported suicides between 2001 and 2015 for children between the ages of 5 to 17. Of the 15,000 cases, white children committed suicide at much higher rates overall -- there were 13,341 cases of suicide among white children and 1,161 cases among black children. 

However, Joel Greenhouse, the CMU statistician behind the study, said when the window of the study shrunk to the youngest kids, ages 5 to 12, black children were twice as likely to commit suicide than white kids. 

"The importance of a study like this is to serve as a surveilence of what's happening," he said. "And reveal some patterns and incidences that would otherwise not be known." 

Greenhouse said a majority of these cases are due to hangings or suffocations.

Child suicide is a difficult subject to discuss, he said, but knowing that it's happening in such young populations should signal the need for a conversation. He said this should start with educating parents and teachers about signs to look for in children who might be thinking about suicide.

"If we don't think young children commit suicide then we won't pick up on the proper cues and intervene," he said. 

Greenhouse said he hopes this information will prompt public health officials to develop strategies around combatting child suicide. 

"Results of studies like this direct us to look more deeply to understand why there might be those differences," Greenhouse said. "If we could identify what are the risk factors, what are the behaviors that preceed kids committing suicide, then that could contribute to an intervention that we could then develop and make available."

Some resources for families or individuals concerned their child might be considering suicide:

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.