Black children in that young age group are about twice as likely to take their own lives as whites, the researchers found.
For older kids, the picture reverses: Black teens, aged 13 to 17, are half as likely to die by suicide as similarly aged white kids, the study authors said.
“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 Jeff Bridge. He’s director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.
The age-related racial difference in suicide rates did not change during the 15-year study period, suggesting it’s not explained by the Great Recession, Bridge and his colleagues noted.
For the study, the investigators analyzed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify youth suicides from 2001 to 2015.
Among kids aged 5 to 17, about 1,660 black children took their own lives, versus 13,300 whites, the findings showed.
Overall, the suicide rate was about 42 percent lower among black children. But the findings became more nuanced when the study team dug into specific age groups.
“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,” Bridge said in a hospital news release.
The study cannot pinpoint why these apparent age differences exist. Bridge said future studies should look at whether risk and protective factors associated with white teen suicides are related to suicide in black youth.
It’s also key, he added, to find out how these factors change throughout childhood and adolescence.
The findings were published in the May 21 issue of JAMA Pediatrics.
There’s more on suicide risk and children at the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.