Sense of Belonging May Help Protect African-American Women from Suicide

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

Related articles:
Suicide Risk Factors and Warning Signs
Building a Whole Self: Multidimensional Identities
Factors Affecting Mental Health in Minority Populations

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • leanna

    August 22nd, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    while racial regard MAY be a factor,I do not think it contributes much when it comes to suicide…because the reasons driving people to suicide are much more serious and beyond the scope of their race…there are far too many things people care about more than their race or how much belonged they feel about their race…!

  • PE

    August 22nd, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    Pessimists never run out of reasons,do they?I certainly do not think anyone’s racial background can predict their risk for suicide.Race leading to things that can lead to suicide is a remote possibility but race by itself determining the level of risk?next to none I would say!

  • Whitney

    August 22nd, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    When you have a circle of friends that you are tight with and who help you think positive thoughts as a whole, regardless of your race, this is certain to help anyone who may be inclined to think of suicide as an option to perhaps think of some other ways to resolve whatever issues they could be facing.
    Friends are wonderful resources to lean on when things are hard, and it sounds like thye can provide benefit to us in many more ways than most of us ever give them credit for.

  • Rhetta

    August 22nd, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    Why do you think that there is still such a taboo among the black community to admit that there is a problem with mental illness and still such a reluctance to share and pursue help for these problems? Most other communities and minority groups have accepted that this is not a sign of weakness and that actually seeking help can make you stronger, but I do not see this willingness in the African American community as a whole. More likely than not, blacks with mental health issues try to fly beneath the radar and just hope that they can do this on their own, that to admit to a problem would be sees as a weakness among their friends and families. I wonder why this has stayed in this pattern of behavior when most everyone else sees that it is okay to ask for help from time to time in life and that there is nothing about this that makes you weak or less than equal to others.

  • zoe

    August 23rd, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    i have never known a black woman to be anything but strong so i know this must be a real struggle if they ever have to ask for help with an issue like this

  • lindy Reynolds

    August 25th, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Particularly for women I think that you will find that friends are sometimes everything, very important to them, so to have a working network and connection with these friends could help to stave off a whole host of problems for women who may otherwise be at risk for having to face scary issues like drug abuse, depression or suicidal thoughts. Friends are like that invisible crutch- you may not be able to see it, but many times these are the things that prop you up in life. Many of my close friends are like sisters to me, and I can’t tell you how many times just having them around has saved me from making some very bad decisions. I don’t think that there is a woman anywhere who can’t relate to that.

  • Brea t

    August 27th, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    Simply identifying as one race or another doesn’t do anything to increase self esteem or self worth. But having something that you ca really identify with and that you see as being important to who you are as a person, now that is something that people can hold onto and that they will see as important in life. If everyone had this kind of connection with a crux issue, then I think that you would see a much lower rate of suicide overall.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.