The overall suicide rate among children between the ages of five and 11 was stable during the 20 years from 1993 to 2012, but that stability obscured racial differences that show an increase in suicide among black children and a decrease among white children.
For a study published by JAMA Pediatrics, researchers led by Jeffrey A. Bridge, Ph.D., of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, analyzed 20 years of nationwide mortality data.
The researchers found that 657 children between the ages of five and 11 died by suicide between 1993 and 2012 — an average of nearly 33 children each year. They also found that 553 (84 percent) of the children were boys and 104 (16 percent) were girls.
Hanging/suffocation was the predominant method of suicide, accounting for 78.2 percent (514 of 657) of the total suicides, followed by firearms (17.7 percent; 116 of 657) and other methods (4.1 percent; 27 of 657), according to the results.
The analysis showed that the overall suicide rate remained stable during the 20-year period, going from 1.18 per one million to 1.09 per million.
However, the researchers found that that stability resulted from divergent trends in suicide for black and white children during those 20 years.
The suicide rate increased in black children from 1.36 per one million to 2.54 per one million, while the suicide rate decreased in white children from 1.14 per one million to 0.77 per one million.
The statistically significant racial differences were confined to both black and white boys, with an increase in the suicide rate among black boys (1.78 to 3.47 per one million) and a decrease in the suicide rate among white boys (from 1.96 to 1.31 per one million).
Although the changes were not statistically significant among girls, the suicide rate among black girls increased from 0.68 to 1.23 per one million during the 20-year period, while the suicide rate among white girls remained stable from 0.25 to 0.24 per one million, according to the study’s findings.
According to the researchers, the findings prompt questions about what factors might influence increasing suicide rates among young black children, such as disproportionate exposure to violence and traumatic stress, aggressive school discipline, and an early onset of puberty.
However, the researchers said it remains unclear if any of these factors are related to increasing suicide rates.
“The stable overall suicide rate among U.S. children aged five to 11 years during 20 years of study masked a significant increase in the suicide rate among black children and a significant decline in the suicide rate among white children,” the authors write.
“From a public health perspective, future steps should include ongoing surveillance to monitor these emerging trends and research to identify risk, protective and precipitating factors associated with suicide in elementary school-aged children to frame targets for early detection and culturally informed interventions.”
Source: The JAMA Network Journals