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Mental Health Center

Study Details Suicide in U.S. Blacks

Black Suicide Rates Highest for Women, Caribbean Men, Youths, Mentally Ill
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 31, 2006 -- The first detailed study of suicide among black Americans dispels the myth that blacks are less prone to suicide than whites are.

With 4.6% of Americans making a suicide attempt, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S. It's not much different for black Americans -- 4.1% attempt suicide, find Sean Joe, PhD, MSW, of the University of Michigan, and colleagues.

Earlier community surveys suggested that suicide wasn't as much of a problem for black Americans as for white Americans. But the new data, from household interviews with a national sample of 5,181 black men and women in the U.S., show this isn't so.

"Black Americans have levels of suicidal thought and behaviors that are comparable with the general population," Joe and colleagues conclude. Their report appears in the Nov. 1 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Black Subgroups at Highest Risk

Joe and colleagues find that more than one in 10 black Americans has had suicidal thoughts. These ideas are most likely to progress to an actual suicide plan in the year after they first arise.

As might be expected, black Americans with any psychiatric disorder have an eightfold higher risk of attempting suicide. Those with three or more psychiatric disorders are 17 times more likely to attempt suicide.

Other risk factors aren't so obvious. Compared with the overall 4.1% suicide-attempt rate for black Americans:

  • 7.5% of Caribbean black men (men from the Caribbean or men of Caribbean descent) attempt suicide.
  • 4.9% of black women (but only 3.1% of black men) attempt suicide.
  • 5.9% of young blacks -- those born in 1975 or later -- attempt suicide.
  • 5.8% of blacks from the Midwest, and 5.6% of blacks from the Northeast, attempt suicide.
  • 6.1% of blacks with less than a high school education (but only 2.4% of those with a college education) attempt suicide.
  • 5.8% of never-married blacks (but only 2.9% of married blacks) attempt suicide.

Joe and colleagues urge doctors to get over the idea that black Americans aren't at risk of suicide. They note that most black Americans who attempt suicide have tried to get help from a health professional.

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