According to Brea L. Perry of the University of Kentucky, African American women who have moderate levels of adaptive coping mechanisms, such as self-esteem, well-being, and active coping skills are less likely to contemplate or act on suicidal ideas than those with very low or very high levels of the same traits. Perry was motivated to explore this topic because African-American women make up the highest percentage of the general population that experiences significant enough consequences from suicide attempts to receive medical care. And yet, to date, little clinical research has been focused on the factors that put them at risk.
Perry evaluated 204 low-income African-American women for their experience of general racism, sexism, sexist racism, and discrimination, as well as their coping factors. She theorized that women with chronic stress from racism and sexism would be most at risk, and that social support, high levels of self-esteem, and well-being would weaken that risk. Her theory was partially correct. Perry discovered that nearly one fifth of the women in her study had a history of suicidal ideation. Of those, the largest predictor was gendered racism, not racism or sexism independently. This suggests that the combined effect of being stereotyped and discriminated against for race and sex together has the most significant adverse impact on psychological well-being.
When she examined the coping and resiliency factors among the women, Perry found that social and family support, elements believed to protect people from psychological distress, did this for the majority of the participants. However, other coping mechanisms, such as self-esteem and adaptive coping behaviors, only helped the women if had moderate levels of those traits. The women with high or low self-esteem and high or low adaptive coping were not insulated from risk. It is understandable why low coping could make someone vulnerable to the negative effects of stress, but having high coping skills and suicidal vulnerability is less understood.
Perry believes that the women in her sample, who were primarily low-income women, may internalize feelings of frustration or incompetence if they have unusually high levels of self-esteem. In other words, in their environment, these women are less able to meet their own expectations of themselves, and therefore may internalize those feelings of disappointment, thus eliminating the buffering effect of high self-esteem and positive coping. Although more work needs to be done, Perry noted that these results provide new insight. She said, “These findings improve our understanding of the combinations of culturally specific experiences and psychosocial processes that constitute risk and protective factors for suicide among African American women.”
Perry, Brea L., Erin L. Pullen, and Carrie B. Oser. Too much of a good thing? Psychosocial resources, gendered racism, and suicidal ideation among low socioeconomic status African American women. Social Psychology Quarterly75.4 (2012): 334-59. Print.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.