Black suicide attempt rate is high

By LEAH CARLINER, UPI Correspondent  |  Nov. 6, 2006 at 8:38 AM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- The attempted suicide rate of blacks living in the United States is higher than expected at 4 percent, according to a new study.

The study, which was composed of data collected by the National Survey of American Life, concludes that the highest suicide attempts are among Caribbean black men.

Lead researcher Sean Joe of the University of Michigan said that the percentage of Caribbean black men attempting suicide is a significant discovery. At 7.5 percent, Joe said the findings were "definitely troubling."

Dr. Carl Bell, the president and CEO of Community Mental Health Council Inc., said that one of the research's greatest strengths is the distinction it makes between different ethnicities within the black community.

"The black American community is very diverse," said Bell. "To tease that out I think is very helpful."

Bell speculated that the suicide attempt rate among Caribbean black men was higher because of their close link to American culture.

"It would appear that the issue of acculturation puts people at higher risks of attempts," said Bell. "The more they assimilate into mainstream America, the higher their attempt rates are."

The research also found that black American women were more likely to attempt suicide than black American men, with 4.9 percent and 3.1 percent attempted rates respectively.

The survey was conducted between February 2001 and June 2003 and sampled 5,181 black respondents ages 18 years and older.

According to the research, African-American women were the second most prevalent group of blacks to attempt suicide at 5 percent. Suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts were also more widespread among blacks who are younger.

"It's troubling that young blacks are most at risk, those under the age of 31," said Joe.

"I think young black Americans are more likely to internalize stress. Their coping mechanism is not as strong as older generations," he said.

For Joe, these findings mean that suicide prevention measures must be taken more seriously, especially among the younger black community.

"We have to focus on the young generation, particularly because their suicide attempts seem to be a little more impulsive," he said.

According to Bell, it is very important to make a distinction between suicide attempt rates, which is what this research is measuring, and suicide completion rates.

"You've got to be very careful to distinguish, otherwise you start a false panic," said Bell.

The key difference, said Bell, between those who attempt suicide and those who complete suicide is protective factors, which include social fabrics, access to technology, social skills and minimization of trauma.

"The problem is if you look at suicide completion, 95 percent of people who complete suicide are depressed, but less than 95 percent of depressed people complete suicide," he said, crediting the protective factors.

Joe said social stigma and lack of access to healthcare could be a reason for the higher rate.

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