Study reveals black child suicide rates on the rise

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Suicide can be a hard subject to talk about. It’s the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15-24 according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. A recent study reveals there is a growing number of children, ages 5 to 11, killing themselves specifically black children.

Instances of children ending their lives or trying to, before they even hit their teenage years are very rare but the reality of the situation can be unsettling.

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Shanna Dickens, lead therapist at Wilmington Health Access for Teens, says though uncommon preadolescences are capable of taking their own lives.

“It is something that does happen in that age group and it’s a concern,” said Dickens. “If you think about someone that is much younger they don’t have the same amount of coping skills that we have. And they also don’t have the same amount of language. They don’t necessarily have the words to explain ‘this is how I’m feeling.’”

A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Pediatrics) shows that there is a rising number of African American children that are dealing with just that. The study looked at statistics for children between the ages of 5 and 11 from 1993 to 2012. In this time period there were 657 child suicides. Researchers found that while the overall suicide rate among this age group remained consistent, but the rate almost doubled for black children. The rates among black children rose from 1.36 to 2.54 per 1 million. White kids’ rates declined from 1.14 to 0.77 per 1 million. Experts say suicide rates have historically been higher among white individuals across all age groups.



Even though these numbers are small compared to the millions of children in the U.S. The study is troubling for those who work with youth on a daily basis. Wilmington tennis legend and coach Lenny Simpson says this is a topic that needs to be addressed.

“I was absolutely floored by the suicidal rate of  young boys and girls in this country,” said Simpson.

“What we really talk about and what we really concentrate on is violence, crime, relationships with the police department community. We talk about gang situations. There’s no question those things are very crucial and very important but nobody is talking about why these young kids are killing themselves at a very early age,” said Simpson.

While many issues haunt our communities, Dickens says suicide is often not talked about.

“There’s a lot of stigma in our society about depression and about suicidal thoughts. And people have a fear that if they tell someone that they are having these feelings or their symptoms something bad is going to happen,” said Dickens.

Pastor Clifford Barnett of Warner Temple AME Zion Church offered his way of dealing with this taboo subject.

“I think African American boys especially get caught up with everybody has got to be bad and be like the guy on the street but they just want to be like everybody else; loved, encouraged, pointed in the right direction,” said Pastor Barnett.

The right direction for both Pastor Barnett and Simpson could be started on the court.

“That’s why for example kids get involved in sports and they loved the coaches because their coaches are telling them ‘hey this is what you’re doing right, this is what you’re doing wrong,’” said Pastor Barnett.

“Athletics can help a young boy or girl by giving them confidence in themselves. If they put a little work in something, a lot of work in something they can get very good at something,” said Simpson.

Dickens says family history of mental illness, exposure to violence and or trauma and access to weapons can be factors that can contribute to a child wanting to commit suicide.

The study also found black boys rates of killing themselves by hanging or suffocation had increased, while the rate for white boys did not change.