Being a child in current times is not easy. The constant stimulation through social media and the internet, and current trends contributes to depression, more cyber bullying, as well as bullying in school. All of this can lead to anger, isolation, helplessness, and suicidal thoughts in children and preteens. According to a study, “Age-Related Racial Disparity in Suicide Rates Among U.S. Youths From 2001 Through 2015,” conducted by Dr. Jeffrey A. Bridge and published last year in JAMAPediatrics, twice as many Black children ages 5 to 12 years are at risk of suicide than White children. However, at the age of 12 and higher, it flips, and more White preteens commit suicide than Blacks. In the study, “Suicide Trends Among Elementary School–Aged Children in the United States From 1993 to 2012,” it shows that 657 Black children (553 boys and 104 girls) took their own lives. The study also revealed that the suicide rates for Black boys increased 95 percent over a two-decade span. In 2016 alone, at least 48 Black children between the ages of 6 and 14 took their own lives.
Signs of childhood depression
To feel sad or depressed as a child is not uncommon, but if it is persistent, there are signs to look out for:
—Anger and/or irritability
—Feeling sad or hopeless for a long period of time
—Feeling tired and low on energy
—Low or increased appetite
—An increase in vocal or crying outbursts
—Changes in sleep patterns; more sleep or less sleep
—Lack of concentration
—Withdrawal from social activities
It is still relatively unclear why the suicide rate in Black children is higher than in Whites, but environmental factors–such as living in a bad neighborhood, poverty, losing a sibling or a parent to street violence, police brutality or imprisonment—can add to feeling anxious, irritable and hopeless, which leads to more depression, even suicial thoughts. Minorities also fall victim to racism and bullying in schools, and online. Limited access to health insurance for many African-Americans exacerbates the situation. Mental health is often secondary within Black households and the community in general. According to data collected from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, many states have a shortage of practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists. In Los Angeles County, there are 312 child and adolescent psychiatrists available for 2,296,785 children.
“Minorities often don’t seek treatment,” said Erlanger Turner, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston. “What we know is that people at risk of suicide often suffer from some mood disorder or depression. If you’re not treated for these conditions, the risk is much higher.”
Child suicide not a ‘White’ phenomenon
Michael Lindsey, a professor at New York University, has been focusing recently on the correlation between mental health and poverty. He told U.S. News that “the high rate of African-American children eliminates the belief of suicide as a ‘White phenomenon.”’
Another study that was based on a survey from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention demonstrates that the number of children and teens in the United States who visited the emergency room for suicidal thoughts and attempts had doubled between the years of 2007 and 2015.
Dr. Mark Goulston, an expert on suicide prevention, breaks down the causes of mental health issues in young people and how to prevent suicide.
“Modern life has helped create a perfect storm of problems in teens that can lead to depression, anxiety, and in some cases suicide. To stop the snowball effect, we need to understand where all their pain is stemming from,” the Boston native said. “We can’t move the needle on teen suicide until we identify what drives this suffering. Once everyone can empathize with the isolation, pain, and fear impacting today’s teens, we can offer them true understanding, and help them feel heard and far less alone.”
Suicide in adolescents and in teens is something that marinates deep inside and grows over time. From the stage of an infant, children learn they need to feel secure, they need to trust someone to be there for them, they need to bond with their caregiver. If they don’t have that feeling from an early age, they will develop insecurities, distrust, and anxieties. Therefore they will fall apart as soon as trouble arises, because they don’t know the feeling of “everything will be ok.”
Any unreceived approval they crave from teachers, parents, even their peers can result in feeling hurt, resentment, anxiety and anger, which then can lead to depression. That resentment fuels the anxiety and the child feels compelled to do something deviant to get back to the person that hurt them, but then focuses on self-destruction.
Understanding complex factors can save lives
At the onset of suicide, it feels like the world of the child is crashing, and the child fears losing control, and in order to avoid that, they decide to die by suicide.
“Understanding the complex factors that are leading to increased mental illness and suicide is the first step to helping stop this crisis,” Goulston explained. “We have to understand what’s wrong before we can change it. Then, we can respond with empathy and understanding to save the lives of teenagers everywhere.”
As U.S. News reported, experts say other factors also play a role, such as mental issues, like bipolar disorder, profound social isolation or a deep sense of loss.
Not too many cases make the news, but there were a few who did. Like Gabriel Taye, from Cincinnati, Ohio . The 8-year-old is the youngest African-American child in the U.S. who committed suicide by hanging, that has been linked to bullying in school. Days before the incident, a school surveillance video was released, that showed Taye lying unconscious in the boys bathroom, after encountering a group of peers.
In the case of Mckenzie Adams, the 9-year-old from Linden, Ala, who committed suicide by hanging last year in Decemeber, the investigations indicated that Adams was also being bullied by her classmates. Notes were passed around that read “You think you’re White because you ride with that White boy,’ ‘You ugly,’ ‘Black b—-,’ ‘Just die.” Her aunt Eddwina Harris, told the local newspaper “The Tuscaloosa News.”
Family life plays a large role
In 2017, 11-year-old Rylan Thai Hagan from Washington D.C. hanged himself with his belt. He was considered to be happy, was an A-student and tutored other kids. But Hagan’s parents both struggled with homelessness and substance abuse. The reason why he committed suicide is unknown.
In January of 2018, 12-year-old, Stormiyah Denson-Jackson from Washington D.C., hanged herself at the charter school she attended, as a result of bullying as well.
Author and child advocate, Steve Simpson is known for his illustrated fiction novels that tackle on the topics of depression, identity, puberty and abusive home enviorment to which he relates to personally. His mission is to help as many children and parents, as possible.
“First things first, to make them realize ‘It’s not just you! You’re not alone,’ ” Simpson said. “And then of course it goes to how I survived and giving them ideas. I also have an entire reference part in the handbook of different 800 numbers.”
The New York City native has been featured on various networks such as CNN, FOX News, ABC News, CBS News. Having experienced an abusive childhood with an alcoholic father and codependent mother, Simpson has been able to relate to the youth and knows how to address the issues, adolescents and teens are dealing with. By working with high schools and colleges, Simpson promotes suicide prevention and how to raise awareness to make a difference.
“If any teacher walked in front of a classroom and said ‘I have a book on suicide, who’s thinking of suicide? Whose parents are abusing them? Whose parent is an alcoholic?’ no one is going to raise their hand,” Simpson said. “Yet one in every five children, in that classroom, falls in one of those categories.”
A difficult topic that must be discussed
It’s a tricky topic, since most people still think of it as a taboo or are in denial that their children are depressed and even suicidal. Simpson novels are great for both the teenagers going through a tough time, and for the parents understanding their children. Although his novels are considered fiction, the main topics addressed in “The Teenage and Young Adult Survival Handbook” are based on Simpsons own experiences as a child, and young adult.
Anxieties and worrying about the future can also contribute to feeling depressed as a child. Children who come from broken homes or live in poverty are at higher risk, because they feel there is no other future for them in store, no other way to escape.
According to the CDC, “Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, and results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year.” Studies have shown however that there are differences as well between ethinc groups. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports, Caribbean Black males have a higher rate of attempted suicide than African-Americans, therefore that group has to be targeted with prevention efforts as well.
Experts don’t have the exact answers as to why the numbers are so alarming but there’s a link between kids who experience racism, as well as mental health issues in the Black community. It’s important to promote suicide prevention but also have more mental health professionals who are African-American in the community who can cater to the needs of Black children and teens.
To promote suicide prevention requires focused efforts at school and in the home. Organizations that work with and support young children should be aware of the matter and acknowledge its importance.