Suicide rates in the United States have traditionally been higher among whites than blacks across all age groups. However, a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics shows that racial disparities in suicide rates are age-related. Specifically, suicide rates for black children aged 5-12 were roughly two times higher than those of similarly aged white children.
“Our findings provide further evidence of a significant age-related racial disparity in childhood suicide rates and rebut the long-held perception that suicide rates are uniformly higher in whites than blacks in the United States,” said Jeff Bridge, director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s and the study’s lead author. “The large age-related racial difference in suicide rates did not change during the study period, suggesting that this disparity is not explained by recent events such as the economic recession.”
For older children, the trend reverses back to the national average. For youth aged 13-17 years, suicide was roughly 50 percent lower in black children than in white children.
Researchers obtained data for cases in which suicide was listed as the underlying cause of death among persons aged 5-17 years from 2001-2015 from the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARSTM) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
From 2001-2015, for American youth aged 5-17 years, 1,661 suicide deaths in black youths and 13,341 suicide deaths in white youths occurred. During this period, the overall suicide rate was about 42 percent lower in black youth (1.26 per 100,000) than in white youth (2.16 per 100,000). However, age strongly influenced this racial difference, as seen when suicide rates among 5- to 12-year-olds and 13- to 17-year-olds were analyzed.
“It is important not to lose sight that very young children of all races are at risk of suicide,” said Joel Greenhouse, a co-author of the study and professor of statistics and data science at Carnegie Mellon University. “Descriptive studies like this are important for identifying trends in suicide rates. However, they leave open the question as to why there are differences.”
Greenhouse added, “It is also important to note that the homicide rate for black youths aged 13-17 is between five to seven times greater than for white youths and may indeed be a competing risk for suicide in this age group. This is a question that we are continuing to investigate.”