The thought of a child dying is unbearable for any parent, yet the death of a child is a stark reality for many African-American families. Although a parent can never really prepare for the loss of a child, when an illness precedes death, parents and children have the opportunity to say goodbye. But what happens when your child's death wasn't due to illness and wasn't even a tragic accident; but your beloved child took his own life? Sadly, the number of Black youth taking their lives is on the rise. Here are two things that you need to know about Black children and suicide:
Kids as young as 5 years old are doing it...
Although many experts will tell you that it's rare for children to take their own lives before they reach puberty, this is not proving to be the case for African-American children. (Although some professionals will try to convince you that Black kids just reach puberty earlier. Umm... How many 5-year-olds do you know have already reached puberty? Not many. Please stop trying to turn our babies into mini-adults.) Not only are our young Black children taking their lives, undoubtedly from pain that they feel they can't or shouldn't express, but the rate at which elementary-aged Black children are taking their lives is actually increasing, and that is not being found in other demographics.
The Suicide Trends Among Elementary School-Aged Children in the United States From 1993 to 2012 study found that although the suicide rate among elementary school-aged children remained stable between 1993-2012, this consistency is because White boys are committing suicide less while Black boys are committing suicide at an increasingly alarming rate. During this timeframe, the suicide rate for Black boys ages 5-11 went up from 1.78 to 3.47 per 1 million kids while for White boys the rate dropped from 1.96 to 1.31 per 1 million. The suicide rate for Black girls also increased from .68 to 1.23 per 1 million while the suicide rate for White girls has remained stable over time varying from .25 to .24 per 1 million.
The numbers don't lie. Not only are Black girls and boys as young as 5 years old killing themselves but these statistics show that our children are committing suicide at rates higher than their White peers. Sadly, the same study found that young children are killing themselves most commonly by hanging, suffocation, and self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Our BABIES are doing that! And to add insult to injury...
Schools may be contributing to the increase
The researchers postulated several reasons for this discrepancy in suicide rates however one in particular stood out to me: aggressive school discipline. Although this study did not account for why the suicides are happening, one speculation is that the disproportionate amount of aggressive discipline that Black children experience at school could be contributing to the difference in suicide rates.
Hmmm... So, to all of you who seem to think that it was okay for resource officer Ben Fields to throw that young Black girl across the classroom in the name of "school discipline" - I see you. That's how much you value the lives of our children.
It has to stop!
Some African-American children are experiencing so much emotional turmoil that they see death as their only way out. This simply has to stop. The aggressive school discipline has to stop. The bullying has to stop. Viewing our children as mini-adults has to stop. Kids have to feel free to get help when they're feeling depressed and the adults around them have to be trained to understand the symptoms and warning signs of depression and suicidal ideation.
No, our children aren't just "bad ass kids" when they act out; they're kids who are crying for help. Please, please, PLEASE answer the cry -- before it's too late.
Aysha Ives, M.S. is a Best-Selling Author, Therapist and Freelance Mental Health Journalist. You can connect with her on Twitter @AyshaIves.