Study Finds That Black Children Have Higher Rates Of Suicide Than White Children

May 26, 2018  |  

suicide rates higher in black children

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I recently had a conversation with my sister about how much harder it is for children of color growing up in the world where racism, privilege and discrimination are prevalent in their lives from the very beginning. The Santa Fe, Texas shooting that took place on May 18th now stands as the 16th US school shooting this year that has led to injury or death. As an adult, I find myself needing to regularly disconnect and process just to be able to take on the world each day, so it’s devastating to imagine how being exposed to regular violence and general toxicity taking place in the world affects our youth who are growing and just discovering their place in the world and how it all affects them.

ESSENCE reports JAMA Pediatrics recently released a study that found that Black children have a slightly higher suicide rate than their White counterparts. From 2001 to 2105 suicide rates among Black children from ages 5-12 approximately double that of white children. The study funded by The National Institute of Mental Health found however that the numbers change significantly once youth entered their teenage years. Researchers were unable to specify exactly why but for kids between the ages of the 13 and 17, the suicide rate dropped to roughly 50 percent lower in Black children than in White children.

Rheeda Walker, a psychology professor at the University of Houston speculated to the Chicago Tribune that suicide is not considered a problem within the Black community, therefore prevention methods are not often made a priority:

“If there is a belief that Black children do not kill themselves, there’s no reason to use tools to talk about suicide prevention.”

Walker has done research on how perceived racism maybe possibly linked to rates of suicide in the Black community.

My sister and I have joked in the past that we could have never attempted suicide in our mother’s house where a strict set of rules were enforced that limited privacy and were attempted to prevent secrets. Children in the house weren’t allowed to have locks on doors, and although we were taught to knock on closed doors before entering and most times all members of the household respected that, my mom would regularly come strolling into a bedroom unannounced to listen and make comments on phone conversations with close friends, or clean off the dresser and make the bed while hitting you with a random, “Whose this little raggedy looking boy you have a picture of?” In our household the message was less, “I’m here for you if you ever need to talk about tour problems,” and more, “I’m watching you, because no one is going to be up in here drugging or drinking themselves to death because of depression, embarrassing me!” We joke about it now, and our mother’s intentions were good, but mental health in African-American families was something that was unheard of or not discussed until just recently. Traditionally mental health in the Black community has been seen as a weakness to be ashamed of, and not something to be taken seriously or addressed with professional help.

The study’s lead author Jeff Bridge says that in the past the CDC publishes statistics and guidelines that spread across wide age groups, which is potentially problematic:

“We can’t just rely on age groupings across five-year developmental periods. When the CDC publishes statistics, the groupings cut across large developmental periods and that runs the risk of missing some age-related differences in the risk for suicide.”

For African-American families, I think it helps to have open and honest communication with your children beginning at a young age that respects their privacy while still making them they feel safe sharing their feelings and experiences without worry they’ll be punished for views that don’t always meet their parent’s approval. In a world where children are basing their self-esteem and image more and more on social media and not only the approval of their peers, but also celebrities and media, it’s important for parents to check in and do more listening than talking.

Ask your pre-teens how they feel about Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” video and the statement it’s making on their lives (if any). Recognize that for children like 10-year-old Ashawnty Davis and 8-year-old Imani McCray bullying is real, and as much as we need to prepare them for how harsh the outside world may be, ultimately home should be a safe space where they feel celebrated, heard and validated. Lastly allow them a space to disconnect from social media and the outside world in general so they know the world is so much more than tags, likes and follows. It’s no longer enough to hope that if we don’t talk about mental health, our children’s problems will solve themselves or disappear. We need to start having tough conversations and deal with our own trauma to break toxic cycles if it means saving the lives of our children.

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