- Published on Oct 26, 2006
- Contact Jared Wadley
ANN ARBOR—New research indicates that blacks in the United States have a lifetime prevalence of attempted suicide of about 4 percent, a rate comparable with the general population, but higher than previous estimates.
The University of Michigan findings" the first known national study that provides information about the prevalence of attempted suicide among blacks" appear in the Nov. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death among all Americans and the rates range across specific demographic subgroups. In recent years, suicide and nonfatal suicidal behavior have emerged as crucial health issues for blacks, particularly among older adolescents and young adults.
Sean Joe, assistant professor at the U-M School of Social Work, and colleagues sought to determine national estimates of the lifetime prevalence and risk factors for suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts among blacks of African American and Caribbean ethnicity in the United States. The researchers used data from the National Survey of American Life (NSAL), a national sample of 5,181 black respondents age 18 and older, conducted between February 2001 and June 2003. The NSAL study was conducted by the Program for Research on Black Americans at U-M's Institute for Social Research.
The estimated lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts among blacks in the United States was 4.1 percent; for suicidal thoughts, 11.7 percent. By comparison, the most recent data from the National Institute of Mental Health's Epidemiologic Catchment Area study for the period 1980-1984 had the lifetime estimate of attempted suicide among blacks at 2.3 percent.
In Joe's study, among those who reported suicidal thoughts, 34.6 percent made a suicide plan and 21 percent made an unplanned attempt.
Significant differences were found based on gender, with suicide attempts more prevalent among women (4.9 percent) than men (3.1 percent). The prevalence of suicide attempts was highest for Caribbean black men (7.5 percent), followed by African American women (5 percent). Risk of a suicide attempt and risk of suicidal thoughts were significantly associated with being younger, having a low education level, residing in the Midwest region of the United States, and having one or more psychiatric disorders.
The researchers indicate the study's results should influence clinicians who screen patients for risk of suicide. For instance, clinicians should focus on modifiable risk factors" such as anxiety or depression" and should engage blacks in aggressive treatment in the high-risk period of the first year after the initial ideas of suicide and continue to observe patients who attempt suicide.
Clinicians must also consider, when screening blacks, the strong association of psychiatric disorders with the risk for suicide attempts, the greater likelihood for young adults to be impulsive and for older adults to engage in planned suicide attempts. It is also important that black patients at risk for impulsive attempts do not have access to firearms or medications that can be used to attempt suicide.