Youth suicide is a major problem – the second-leading cause of death among adolescents in the US – but research into the trends has tended to exclude young children, say authors analyzing the numbers. Their analysis looks exclusively at the group aged 5-11 years and finds that while the rate has remained steady overall, an increasing proportion of young black children have become victims of suicide.
Within the stable suicide rates, numbering an average of around 33 children in the US annually over the past 2 decades, fewer white children have been affected while more black kids have succumbed.
To reach this conclusion, US death rate statistics from 1993-2012 were used for the JAMA Pediatrics journal report, and the divergent trend was shown by:
- Increased rates in black children, from 1.36 suicide deaths to 2.54 in every million
- Decreased rates in white children, from 1.14 to 0.77 per million children.
Lead author of the study is epidemiologist and suicide researcher Jeffrey Bridge, PhD, of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH. With colleagues, Dr. Bridge also made the following findings:
- A total of 657 children aged between 5 and 11 years died by suicide between 1993 and 2012
- Most of these kids, 84%, were boys (553 of them, compared with 104 girls)
- The rate for all US child suicides in the age group overall remained stable, at around one death in every million children.
The report’s conclusion says the disparity of suicide numbers among young black children is significant and requires action.
“The stable overall suicide rate among US children aged 5-11 years during 20 years of study masked a significant increase in the suicide rate among black children and a significant decline in the suicide rate among white children,” the authors write, adding:
“From a public health perspective, future steps should include ongoing surveillance to monitor these emerging trends, and research to identify risk, protective and precipitating factors associated with suicide in elementary school-aged children, to frame targets for early detection and culturally informed interventions.”
The rise in young black children committing suicide is mostly accounted for by boys, although there was also an increasing rate, but without statistical significance, of black girls dying by suicide while the rate remained stable among white girls.
The most common means by which the kids in the age group died overall was hanging/suffocation – accounting for 514 of the 657 suicide deaths, or 78%. Use of firearms resulted in 116 suicides (18%) and 27 were by other methods (4%).
The authors’ analysis used data on causes of death held by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and publicly available via the WISQARS database.
Research published last month also used CDC data to analyze childhood suicides, and the death predominantly by hanging in the present analysis of younger children contrasts with the findings in that report for older children.
The March 2015 report, also in JAMA Pediatrics found that just over half of the 66,595 suicides by adolescents and young adults recorded in the US between the beginning of 1996 and the end of 2010 were enacted by firearm.
One of its main findings is also that youth suicide is rising in rural areas more than urban – but statistics for location have not been drilled down by the new study of younger children.
Because of much smaller numbers overall than represented by suicides among the above-11s, the latest study did not examine trends in subgroups, such as suicide by poisoning. Nor was it able to analyze changes over time in methods used by the young girls – the rates of female deaths were too low for this.
The authors discuss the greater understanding of adolescent suicide, citing that although rates in children aged 12 to 19 years “are roughly 50 times higher than suicide rates in children aged 5 to 11 years,” investment in suicide prevention approaches “that occur prior to the onset of suicidal behavior may have strong potential to reduce youth suicide rates.”
They offer an example of such an approach, an elementary school-based behavior-management intervention that uses game format with teams and rewards to reduce aggressive and disruptive classroom behavior:
“A long-term follow-up study of students randomized to either the Good Behavior Game or standard setting (control) classrooms in first and second grade found an almost 50% reduction in suicide attempts at ages 19 to 21 years.
“Future research should examine the effect of the Good Behavior Game in preventing suicidal ideation and behavior in children and early adolescents.”