The suicide rate among African American children aged 5 to 11 years has increased substantially since 1993 and is persisting, according to Dr. Jeffrey Bridge, a leading researcher at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital. In 1993 suicide ranked as the 14th leading cause of death among this population. Today it’s the 10th leading cause of death—with rates nearly twice that of their White counterparts. While it is not intuitive and is difficult to understand, suicide ranks as a leading cause of death among all youth aged 5-11 years. Dr. Bridge and his colleagues are among the first to spearhead suicide research within this young population, and their work has revealed these concerning trends in suicidal behaviors among African American children.
In observance of National Minority Mental Health Awareness month this July, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Office of Behavioral Health Equity is bringing attention to suicide among African American children. A year ago, SAMHSA convened a Virtual Roundtable of leading experts on African American mental health and wellness to identify ethnic-specific risk and protective factors contributing to suicidal behaviors in children. The experts emphasized the need for early identification of mental health problems in children, better outreach and engagement of children and their families, understanding family and community factors that impact children’s mental health, and the urgent need for culturally responsive and effective mental health services geared for young children of color.
The persistent suicide trend should prompt a call to action among practitioners that work in child-serving systems, such as pediatric and family health care, schools, child welfare; mental health providers and researchers. It should also be a call to action for faith-based communities, families and particularly fatherhood initiatives, and community leadership. Collaborating together to prevent child suicide is critical. And reaching out to and saving children who endure such pain as to want to take their own life is of the utmost urgency.
Read more on SAMSHA.gov.