Although rates of suicide are significantly lower among African Americans than among other ethnic groups, suicide still poses a major problem for the culture at large. Some experts believe that the low rates of suicide do not accurately reflect suicidal ideation among African Americans because many members of African-American communities perceive disclosure as a sign of weakness. The stigma that is associated with mental health problems may be disguising the real number of African Americans at risk for suicide. Research on suicide has been focused in many directions to assess the contributing factors. One area of research that has not been examined fully is the relationship between suicide and reasons for living among African-American women.
To address this gap, Jalika C. Street of the Department of Psychology at Georgia State University led a study that looked at how racial regard, which describes people’s sense of belonging to their race, influenced suicidal behavior in a sample of 82 African-American women with a history of at least one suicide attempt. She also assessed how racial regard and reasons for living worked together to affect future suicide attempts. Street used the Multidimensional Inventory of Black Identity and the Reasons for Living Inventory scales in her study.
Street discovered that the women who reported deep racial regard and felt positively associated with their African-American identity reported being more committed to living and felt a stronger sense of purpose than those with little racial regard. Racial identity alone, in the absence of racial regard, did not increase a woman’s willingness to live. These findings shed some light on how private racial association and sense of commitment affect psychological well-being in African-American women. It has been suggested that private racial regard is linked to mental health issues, such as self-esteem and depression, in other culturally diverse samples, but this study is the first to elucidate a link between racial regard, desire for living, and suicidal ideation and behavior in this sample; the practical implications of these findings could be significant if applied in a clinical setting. “In other words, private racial regard may be considered a coping resource that is important to capitalize upon in designing and implementing culturally informed interventions,” said Street.
Street, J. C., Taha, F., Jones, A. D., Jones, K. A., Carr, E., Woods, A., et al. (2012). Racial identity and reasons for living in African American female suicide attempters. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029594
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