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The Surprising Age-Related Racial Disparities in Childhood Suicide

A detailed analysis of national records shows suicide rates for black children aged 5 to 12 are roughly two times higher than those of similarly-aged white children, Nationwide Children’s Hospital researchers and collaborators report in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Our findings provide 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,” says Jeff Bridge, PhD, director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s and lead author of the publication. “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 youth aged 13 to 17 years, the suicide trend reflects the national average: roughly 50 percent lower among black children than among white children.

Dr. Bridge’s team made their finding by analyzing cases in which suicide was listed as the underlying cause of death among persons aged 5 to 17 years from 2001 to 2015 in the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARSTM) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 2001 to 2015, 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). But a stark difference became apparent when considering age.

“Our findings rebut the long-held perception that suicide rates are uniformly higher in whites than blacks.” – Jeff Bridge, PhD

“The existing literature does not adequately describe the extent of age-related racial disparities in youth suicide, and understanding these differences is essential to creating targeted prevention efforts,” says Dr. Bridge.

The database is likewise limited, failing to yield potential reasons for the differences.

“We lacked information on key factors that may underlie racial differences in suicide, including access to culturally acceptable behavioral health care or the potential role of death due to homicide among older black youth as a competing risk for suicide in this subgroup,” Dr. Bridge elaborates. “Future studies should try to find out whether risk and protective factors identified in studies of primarily white adolescent suicides are associated with suicide in black youth and how these factors change throughout childhood and adolescence.”

CITATION:
Bridge JA, Horowitz LM, Fontanella CA, Sheftall AH, Greenhouse, JB, Kelleher KJ, Campo JV. Age-related racial disparity in suicide rates among U.S. youths between 2001 and 2015. JAMA Pediatrics. 2018 Jul 1;172(7):697-699.

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