Suicides Rising Among Young Black Children, Rural Adolescents

Suicides Rising Among Young Black Children, Rural Adolescents 150 150 Kevin Mayhood

Researchers are parsing data for trends and intervention targets.

Researchers in central Ohio are gaining surprising insights they hope will lead to fewer children and adolescents committing suicide.

While the suicide rate among white children 5 to 11 years old has declined since 1993, the rate among black children in the same age group has nearly doubled.

“The rates for suicide in this age group are low, but we’re seeing an increase and we can’t point to any factors as the causes. That’s concerning,” says Jeff Bridge, PhD, director of the newly created Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, who led the national age-group study.

In a second study, researchers found suicide rates increase with age, and from 1996 to 2010, “nearly 67,000 youths age 10 to 24 died by suicide nationally,” says Cynthia Fontanella, PhD, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University, who led the second study. “The figure is just shocking.”

Researchers also found adolescents and young adults in the most rural parts of the United States take their own lives at nearly twice the rate as those from the most urban counties. And the disparity appears to be growing.

Drs. Bridge and Fontanella are investigating reasons for the trends. They speculate that young black children, particularly boys, may be exposed to more violence and traumatic stress; experience an early onset of puberty accompanied by greater incidence of depression and impulsive aggression; and may be less likely to seek counseling. Rural youths have far less access to mental health care, are more likely to be socially isolated and have more open access to guns.

Until the Bridge-led study, reported suicide rates consistently have been higher among whites than blacks across the age spectrum. The researchers found the hidden trend inside data that showed overall suicide rates among children younger than 12 were steady. They were so surprised, Dr. Bridge says, that they waited an extra year for data to confirm their analysis. The rate of black suicides rose from 1.36 per million children in 1993-1997 to 2.54 per million in 2008-2012. The rate among white children fell from 1.14 to 0.77.

The Fontanella-led study found the suicide rates were 19.9 per 100,000 males and 4.4 per 100,000 females in the most rural U.S. counties, and 10.3 per 100,000 males and nearly 2.4 per 100,000 females in the most urban. Suicide rates among rural males and females climbed while the rate among urban males declined and the rate among urban females held steady. In both studies, males committed suicide four times more often than females.

The researchers are now working with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and county alcohol, drug addiction and mental health boards to identify high-risk areas and factors that precipitate suicide attempts among children and youths.

“We believe if we can understand where and why the rates are high, we can target interventions better,” Dr. Fontanella says. “We’re hoping this will drive prevention in Ohio and nationally.”



  1. Bridge JA, Asti L, Horowitz LM, Greenhouse JB, Fontanella CA, Sheftall AH, Kelleher KJ, Campo JV. Suicide trends among elementary school-aged children in the United States from 1993 to 2012. JAMA Pediatrics. 2015 Jul 1;169(7):673-677.
  2. Fontanella CA, Hiance-Steelsmith DL, Phillips GS, Bridge JA, Lester N, Sweeney HA, Campo JV. Widening rural-urban disparities in youth suicides, United States, 1996-2010. JAMA Pediatrics. 2015 May;169(5):466-473.

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