Suicide rates among whites have traditionally been higher than for blacks in the United States. However, a new study shows that the racial differences in suicide rates may be age-specific. The findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics, reveal that suicide rates for black children aged 5-12 are approximately double than that for white children of similar ages.
“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 lead author Dr. Jeff Bridge, director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
“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.”
Among teens, the trend reverses back to the national average: In young people aged 13-17 years, suicide is roughly 50 percent lower in black children than in white children.
For the study, the researchers pulled 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.
The data shows that between the years 2001-2015, among ages 5 to 17, there were 1,661 suicide deaths in black youths and 13,341 suicide deaths in white youths. During this time 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 significantly affected this racial difference, as shown when suicide rates among 5- to 12-year-olds and 13- to 17-year-olds were evaluated.
“It is important not to lose sight that very young children of all races are at risk of suicide,” said Dr. 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.”
“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,” said Greenhouse.
Source: Carnegie Mellon University