Most of the research compiled on youth and suicide focuses on those years of turmoil between middle school and the end of high school, when tweens and teens seem to be at their most vulnerable. But a new study took a look at an even more vulnerable age group and found a rather alarming trend. Among 5-11 year olds, the rate of suicide is on the rise for young black children. And it's not clear why.

The study, which was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics earlier this week, found that the suicide rate for black children has nearly doubled since the 1990s. During the same time period, the suicide rate for white children declined. 

Thankfully, suicide for this age group — 5 to 11 year olds — is rare, but it sadly still happens. And researchers at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio wanted to get a clearer picture of what was occurring. So they took a look at the national data on death certificates and causes of death between 1993 and 2012. They found that the suicide rate among black children had risen dramatically over this period, from 1.36 per one million children to 2.54. During the same period, the suicide rate for white children declined from 1.14 per million to 0.77. This makes the suicide rate for black children of this age higher than that for white children, It is the only age group in which the suicide rate is higher for blacks than for whites. 

"I was shocked, I’ll be honest with you," said Jeffrey Bridge, an epidemiologist and a lead author for the study. "I looked at it and I thought, ‘Did we do the analysis correctly?’ I thought we had made a mistake."

Now the is why young black children have seen such a dramatic increase in suicide. It's possible that they are exposed to more stress than their white peers. The early onset of puberty, more prevalent among black children, may also be a factor. The bottom line is that before this study, no one even knew that suicide was becoming an issue for young black children. And now that they do, they need to figure out what to do about it.

"Although rates of suicide in adolescents aged 12 to 19 years are roughly 50 times higher than suicide rates in children aged 5 to 11 years, investment in upstream suicide prevention approaches that occur prior to the onset of suicidal behavior may have strong potential to reduce youth suicide rates," the study authors write.

In other words, let's start figuring this out.

Related on MNN:

Suicide rate climbs for young black children
New study uncovers an alarming trend in the racial disparity of suicide rates for very young kids.