Is Racial Discrimination a Significant Factor in the Rise of the Black Suicide Rate?

Over the last decade, suicide rates in the United States have increased dramatically among racial and ethnic minorities, and Black Americans in particular. For Black young adults ages 15–24 years, suicide is the third leading cause of death with approximately 3,000 Black Americans dying by suicide each year.

A new study led by Jasmin Brooks, a doctoral student at the University of Houston, examines whether racial discrimination can be a contributing factor in the rise in Black suicide rates.

Rheeda Walker, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston and a co-author of the study, states that “our findings demonstrate that for Black adults, perceived discrimination serves as a sufficiently painful experience that is directly associated with higher capability to overcome one’s inherent fear of death and achieve an increased capacity for self- harm.”

In this study, the research team measured the relationship between a person’s experiences of discrimination and their level of capability for suicide. The study included 173 Black and 272 White college students, who responded to questionnaires about their experiences. The findings suggest that while perceived discrimination creates emotional disturbance for White adults, it is a uniquely painful event for Black adults.

“For Black adults, perceived discrimination accounted for statistically significant variance above and beyond both feelings of depression and non-discriminatory stressors in predicting suicide capability. For White adults, perceived discrimination was not uniquely associated with capability for suicide,” reports Walker.

Dr. Walker is the author of  The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health: Navigate an Unequal System, Learn Tools for Emotional Wellness, and Get the Help You Deserve (New Harbinger Books, 2020). Dr. Walker is one of the leading researchers in the U.S. specializing in culture, race, mental health and suicide. She holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Florida State University.

The full study, “Capability for Suicide: Discrimination as a Painful and Provocative Event,” was published on the website of the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. It may be accessed here.

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