Experts Warn of Rising Suicide Rates Among Black Girls

For more than a decade, suicide rates have been increasing in Black children and adolescents, and a new study says the sharpest rise occurred among young girls.

The study, published on Thursday in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, found that just over 1,800 Black children died by suicide between 2003 and 2017, and while most of the deaths were among boys, especially those ages 15 to 17, the gender gap is narrowing. The suicide rate of the girls increased an average of 6.6 percent each year — more than twice the increase for boys, the study said. Nearly 40 percent of the girls were 12 to 14 years old, indicating that this age group may need additional attention or different types of interventions.

“That was just like, ‘Whoa’ — what’s going on with our Black girls?” said Arielle H. Sheftall, the lead author of the study. “It caught me a little off guard.”

Mortality data shows that suicide rates of U.S. teenagers and young adults remain highest in boys, particularly whites, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. But in recent years researchers have found that the suicide rate of Black youth is increasing. A study published in May, for example, found that the suicide rate of Black males ages 15 to 24 years old rose by 47 percent between 2013 and 2019 — and by 59 percent for Black females of the same age — but it decreased in white youth.

“I think in the past suicide — or suicidal behavior — was just thought of as a white thing,” said Dr. Sheftall, a principal investigator at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “And that’s not the case.”

Another study, also published this year, said that over the last two decades, the biggest increase in self-reported suicide attempts was among Black adolescents. And in 2018 Dr. Sheftall and other researchers revealed that Black children under 13 are dying by suicide at nearly twice the rate of white children the same age.

Why is this happening? There are no definitive answers. Dr. Sheftall and her colleagues pulled data from a state-based surveillance system to better understand the characteristics of those who died and factors that may have led to their deaths.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Christina Caron

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