black children and suicide

A new study has researchers reeling and headlines screaming: when it comes to Black children and suicide, the numbers of our babies taking their own lives has doubled since 1993.

The research, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that between 1993 and 2012, some 657 children between ages five and 11 killed themselves—84% of them boys and 16% of them girls. While the suicide rate remained stable over the nearly 20-year period, the number of Black children who took their own lives rose significantly, while the rate among white children dropped.

Historically, the study notes, the rates of suicide among Black children has been lower than that of white children; between years 1993 and 1997, suicide ranked as the 14th cause of death among black children between ages five and 11, but it shot up to the 9th cause of death between 2008 and 2012.

Study author Jeffrey Bridge, an epidemiologist at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said he was “shocked” by the findings and he and his fellow researchers had few clues about why more of our children are killing themselves. But they took a few stabs at coming up with some reasons. What Bridges told CNN:

The authors… speculate that suicide rates may be higher for black children for various reasons, including the possibility that they may have more exposure to violence and aggression than white children and be less likely to get help for depression and suicide attempts. In addition, black children tend to go through puberty at a younger age, and research suggests that children are more likely to harm themselves after puberty. It is unclear at this stage if any of these factors, or others, underlie the trend, Bridge said.

Over on the New York Times, Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, noted that gun deaths among white boys nearly halved while those among black boys stayed the same, showing that perhaps gun safety education may not be reaching Black communities. That same story also said that suicides by hanging roughly tripled among Black boys, while remaining virtually unchanged for whites—but failed to say why. The story added:

[Moutier] said the traditionally lower rates for Blacks had often been attributed to strong social networks and family support, religious faith and other cultural factors. “That makes me wonder whether there is something in those protective factors that may have shifted in the wrong direction over those two decades,” she said.

So let’s see: according to these “speculations,” our kids may be taking their lives at alarming rates because they live in violent, aggressive, God-less communities with people who love guns but don’t give a damn about family. Does that sum up what the “experts” are thinking?

Well, a few of us who actually live in these communities, and are Black and have Black children and care deeply about them have a few more speculations to add into the mix. Consider this:

  • In this day and age, our babies attend schools that treat them like felons in training, with security everywhere they turn, school staff that stands at the ready to mete out devastating punishment for the smallest of misdeeds, and teachers that have low-expectations of them on sight.
  • Our babies live in the midst of pop culture that celebrates and glorifies quick cash and easy riches, all while our families struggle to provide even the basic things: food, clothing and shelter for our most vulnerable. Kids learn now at a very early age what kind of lives they’re fated to live. They see their parents struggling. Our country talks incessantly about family values, but barely lifts a congressional finger to make sure that its citizens earn so much as a decent wage, let alone scratch and claw its way out of poverty. Meanwhile, Lil’ Wayne and them fill the pop cultural airwaves with their money, strippers and high-priced goods obsessions, making it damn impossible for babies to accept the destitution and scarcity that they’re faced with day in and day out.
  • Our babies are desperate for love. They have very few places they can get it because people—our families, community, educators and the like—insist that all they need to be is tough. The last thing we give our boys, in particular, is affection, warmth and other obvious manifestations of love that every child needs.
  • And tell me who isn’t devastated by the constant images of Black people being persecuted and bucked down in the street for simply being who they are. Trayvon. Jordan. Eric. Mike. Freddie. Aiyana. Renisha. So many others. Their deaths are our children’s boogie men. Our children—the boys in particular—are devastated by the daily cavalcade of Black humans who look like them being shot, choked, tear-gassed, slammed against the concrete, hit with rubber pellets and the like for having brown skin.

With all of this pounding their bodies, their minds and their hearts daily, frankly, it’s a miracle the numbers aren’t higher.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

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