When it comes to suicide and suicide attempts in elementary school-aged children, the topic is not well-discussed, despite a recent increase in the suicide rate among US Black children. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Sadly, studies show that African American children are taking their lives at roughly twice the rate of their white counterparts. In recent years there has been a rising gap between the two groups. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for African American children and adolescents in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Rising Rates of Suicide Among African American Children
African American children sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to racial discrimination, persistent poverty, social isolation, lack of community resources, and unmet needs. Common mental health disorders among African American children include depression, ADHD, Suicide, and PTSD. Overall between 1999 and 2015, more than 1,300 children ages 5 to 12 took their own lives in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those numbers convert into an average of one child 12 or younger committing suicide every five days. And the pace has actually sky-rocketed in recent years, CDC statistics indicate.
Research from Harvard Medical School shows that among children, ages 5 to 11, and young adolescents, ages 12 to 14, those who took their own lives were more likely to be male, African American, and dealing with stressful relationships at home or with friends. These children also were more likely to die by hanging, strangulation, or suffocation.
Children who had a mental health problem at the time of death were more likely than young adolescents to have been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. They also had higher rates of depression, according to the study.
But Why are our Black Children Killing Themselves?
The rates of suicide between ages 5-12 could be related to a possible lack of family and community network that enforces cultural enhancement. Adults tend to think children are somehow too young to experience depression and anxiety. In turn, adults believe that they are protecting their children by not discussing the realities of suicide and depression. However, as a community, there must be an increased discussion of mental health and suicide in order to truly protect black children.
Speaking of mental health issues amongst children is an important topic that must be discussed and in an attempt to stop the trend of suicide in Black children. Black children are less likely to report their struggles with mental health. In addition, many African American children suffer in silence for years, never sharing with anyone what has happened to them. This in turn causes the trauma to remain untreated and allows mental illness symptoms to worsen.
Black Empowerment for our Children
It is important that we encourage our children to “inner-stand” that they do not have to suffer in silence or alone. We have to start the conversation now and not be so afraid to communicate to Black children about suicide. Black parents, black teachers, and black professionals have to start taking this seriously. We Buy Black hopes to make a change and be a voice for voiceless children, encouraging them to command their voices to SPEAK freely about the pain that they may face on a day to day basis, including bullying, racism, rejection, poverty, and emotional distress.
Start by doing an emotional self-care check in with every Black child that you encounter.
Take a moment to truly listen to that child’s response, and if you believe the child may be suffering from depression, please get them medical or professional help. Seeking treatment can help black children live an empowered life and can strengthen them for the future. There is too little information regarding why our young kings and queens are choosing to end their lives. Therefore, it is up to us to collectively continue to research and uncover the reasons so that we can develop effective, life-altering interventions.