Stress and Suicide Risk Among African-American College Students

All college students experience stress. Not all, however, attempt suicide or have ideas of doing so. For African-American college students, the novelty of university life, moving away from friends and family, academic requirements, and general social pressure may create a sense of stress that requires especially adaptive coping skills. In the existing research on suicide, many factors have been cited as predictive and contributory. For young adults, maladaptive coping strategies, including internalizing behaviors, can lead to depression and lack of will to live, which serve to exacerbate suicide risk. Suicide is quickly becoming one of the top three causes of premature death among young African-American adults. Therefore, it is imperative that the factors that increase vulnerability to and protect from suicide be thoroughly researched.

In an attempt to better understand how coping relates to suicide risk among African-American young adults, Mei-Chuan Wang of the Department of Psychology at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina recently conducted a survey on a sample of 361 African-American college students, one-third of whom reported having attempted or thought about suicide in the past. The students were asked to report how they coped with everyday stressors and overall life stress. The results indicated that emotion-oriented and avoidance coping were the two most common methods of dealing with stress. The students who used emotion coping as an attempt to deal with negative emotions resulting from stress were at greater risk of suicidal ideation than those who used avoidance coping. Wang believes the fact suicide rates are increasing among African-American youth could be explained in part by the high rates of emotion-oriented coping in this segment of the population.

Wang notes that avoidance coping, which is used less frequently by African-American individuals, can shift attention away from negative feelings and perhaps direct focus to more positive things, protecting the individual from feelings of hopelessness and despair. On college campuses, students are exposed to myriad activities and a constantly changing environment, which can increase avoidance tactics and bolster the protective nature of avoidance coping. “Furthermore, students can often observe their peers and gain different perspectives and potential solutions to their problems,” Wang said. The findings presented here illuminate a unique relationship between coping and suicide risk among African-American youth, but further work needs to be done to gain a more comprehensive picture of all the risk factors and protective mechanisms related to suicidal behavior.

Wang, Mei-Chuan, Pius N. Nyutu, and Kimberly K. Tran. Coping, reasons for living, and suicide in black college students. Journal of Counseling & Development 90.4 (2012): 459-66. Print.

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  • lonzo


    November 16th, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    The one thing that you find among black students is that a lot of them don’t have the family support that white kids do.

    many of them have never had another family member go to college so that kind of support that the rest of us have had is not something that they have been able to experience.

    They also could have a difficult time finding their niche if they go to a school that does not attraact a lot of minorities so that feeling of being an outsider looking in with no one to turn to could contribute to higher numbers of these students at least thinking of suicide as a viable option.

  • Julian


    November 16th, 2012 at 6:33 PM

    While suicide and suicide ideation prevention has to be the top most priority,we should also stop to ask ourselves if avoidance is all that good.Yes,it may take the shift away from suicidal thoughts immediately but doe sit have the same good effects in the longer term?I personally would not advice this because avoidance coping has been linked to PTSD in the past.

  • Obie


    November 17th, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    hope that colleges are aware of this disturbing trend and that they are doing necessary outreach and intervention programs across the board with all of their xtudents. if these kids are our future, it looks like a whole segment of the are being shut out and shut down due to poor coping skills as well as little support and resources for them to fall back on when things get difficult for them.

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