Child suicide in the U.S. remains relatively rare, most scientists have concluded, but suicide rates for both Black and White kids in the United States regularly increase as they get older.
In connection with this, recently, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta published some startling news. The suicide rate for Black children, ages 5-12 in the U.S., had increased to the point that it was now double that of White children in the same age group.
Until recently, most studies of suicide in the country had found that the regular rates have been higher for Whites than Blacks across all age groups. Basically, it was accepted knowledge that Whites—including White youth—commit suicide much more than Blacks in the U.S. That statistic remains for adolescents, ages 13-17 and beyond, according to the new study. Overall, White teens continue to have a 50 percent higher rate of suicide than Black teens, so this new finding was indeed significant.
According to the CDC study, between the years 1999 and 2015, more than 2,900 children in the U.S. between 5 to 12 years old took their own lives. Most of them were Black youth. Adding to that fact, from 2001 to 2015, the researchers recorded at least 1,661 suicide deaths in Black children and 13,341 suicide deaths in White children aged 5 to 17 years in the U.S.
Stated another way, an average of one child 12 or younger died by suicide every five days during that time period. After age 12, however, the previously accepted trend starts again—White adolescents from 13-17 still commit suicide 50% more than Black children the same age. This overall youth statistic is not one that Black Americans want to catch up with any time soon.
The double suicide rate finding among Black children under 13 years of age was observed in both boys and girls. But for youth aged 13 to 17, it was roughly 50 percent lower in Black children than in White children, and more girls than boys took their own lives.
In trying to explain why the suicide rate for Black children under 13 years old has spiked, researchers have no real rationales. Some have tried to explain it as a function of a collapsing family structure, or as a consequence of the proliferation of video games and home movies, wherein children are more often left alone rather than intermingling to learn social norms.
No matter the reasons, however, it is an alarm bell for the Black community. Our children cannot be left to take themselves out. As bad as things are, without them growing, developing and contributing, things will only get a lot worse.
How can there be a Wakanda (Afrofuturism) without the future generations taking their turn and pushing us forward? How can we re-ignite the “Talented Tenth” to address all of the remaining issues we have?
Another rationale thrown out there is that with the terming out of President Obama, a POTUS many youth grew up with during their early lives, who now will have their backs? Who can they look to for guidance and heroism?
This explanation may have some credence, given the continuing chaos caused by President Obama’s replacement, number 45. We shall see as this new phenomenon of childhood suicide is studied more.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.