Monday, October 18, 2021

Study finds increasing suicide rates among Black girls


A new study may reveal that long-term racism and prejudice, which affect Black students more than White students, is a cause of increasing suicide rates among Black girls, The New York Times reports.

A 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.

A 2015 study was one of the first to note the trend among adolescents as well as the racial disparity between Black and White adolescents:

Suicide is a leading cause of death among children younger than 12 years. Suicide rates in this age group have remained steady overall for the past 20 years, but a study published [in 2015] in JAMA Pediatrics from The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is the first national study to observe higher suicide rates among Black children compared to White children.

The lead author of the current study was a little suprised by the finding of increased suicide rates among Black adolescent girls:

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

Suicide is rare in young children, but it remains the second leading cause of death among all adolescents.

The Times lists several underlying psychological conditions, such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, that might contribute to suicidal thoughs in adolescents, but there are no easy answers.

In addition, the numbers for Black girls may be under-reported because indirect suicide, where death results from girls putting themselves in harm’s way, may not be classified as a death by suicide.

“The question you should ask is, ‘Why is it that their will to live was so weak, or not strong enough, to prohibit them from engaging in those very risky behaviors that could in fact be deadly?'” the paper quotes Dr LaVome Robinson, a clinical psychologist and professor at DePaul University in Chicago who has studied suicidality in Black adolescents, as saying. “We live in a society that marginalizes us—more so probably than any other group—and has historically for years.”

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.


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