Hate Speech Predicts Immigrant Suicide Rates

Rates Increase With Viciousness of Slurs, Study Shows

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 13, 2004 - Ethnic slurs aren't just politically incorrect. They also predict suicide rates among immigrant groups victimized by hate speech.

The more negative the language, the higher the suicide rate among immigrants in the targeted ethnic group, according to a study by Brian Mullen, PhD, and Joshua Smyth, PhD, of Syracuse University's psychology department.

Mullen and Smyth examined rates of deaths reported as suicides among 10 immigrant groups who came to the U.S. from Europe in the 1950s. The groups were from England, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Scotland, Sweden, and Wales.

The researchers also reviewed the ethnic slurs used at the time to label each group.

"Ethnic immigrant groups subjected to more negative ethnophaulisms, or hate speech, were more likely to commit suicide," write Mullen and Smyth in Psychosomatic Medicine.

The pattern held true after considering other factors, such as the size of the ethnic groups and suicide rates in their countries of origin.

"The use of hate speech may be more than simply 'mean spirited' or 'hurtful' to the targets of hate speech," write Mullen and Smyth. "The use of hate speech may substantively contribute to mortality rates of the targets of hate speech."

More research should be done on the social and health problems stemming from hate speech, write Mullen and Smyth.