At about 6:15 a.m. Tuesday, several middle-school-age students at a boarding school in Washington, D.C., found their 12-year-old classmate unconscious.
Officials would later confirm that the girl, one of the students’ roommates, was dead of an apparent suicide, Fox 5 DC reports. Paramedics who rushed to the scene could not revive her.
The unidentified girl is just the latest example in a disturbing trend of young black students—and black girls in particular—taking their own lives.
As HuffPost reported back in 2015, the suicide rates for elementary-age black children nearly doubled between 1993 and 2015. The data, which was released by the Journal of the American Medical Association that year, found that this was the first known study in which the suicide rate of black youths actually surpassed that of their white counterparts.
The National Center for Health Statistics also found that the suicide rate among black girls ages 10-14, while still relatively low, had tripled, according to a more recent report by Rolling Out.
Researchers have yet to pinpoint exact causes for the increase, but there are several known risk factors.
As Dr. Imani J. Walker wrote for The Root late last year, black girls are often seen and treated as older than they are, leading to overly aggressive school discipline, especially when compared with their white female peers. There is also the increased risk of exposure to violence and traumatic stress. Recent studies have shown that poverty, for example, triggers chronic stress and could make children more impulsive and increase feelings of depression and anxiety.
Even if more obvious triggers are not a factor, Dr. Rheeda Walker, in an article for Ebony, pointed out that young adults who have “a less than positive cultural identity and who internalize racism are also more prone to depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.”
“Parents and other caregivers must protect black children from subtle messaging that their lives don’t matter,” Walker wrote.
All of this, compounded with a lack of institutional support and more common childhood stressors, like bullying, could lead black children to believe that there is little recourse available to them.
In the case of the 12-year-old girl in Southeast D.C., one parent has already told Fox 5 that a culture of bullying existed at the SEED charter school the girl had attended.
Mami Buxton, who pulled her son out of SEED after what she says were two years of bullying, told the TV news outlet that the girl’s death “touched me really deep because of the situation that has been happening with my son at this school.”
Buxton said that the two years of harassment culminated in a sexual assault by another student. She is still trying to get a resolution from SEED, Fox 5 reports, adding that the school needs to address its culture of bullying.
“I know firsthand what it’s like for [students], considering the situation with my own son and how he feels about how they operate when it comes to situations as far as bullying is concerned,” Buxton said. “He feels no one is listening and no one is helping.”
Read more at Fox 5 DC.