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Reducing Suicide: A National Imperative
TABLE 2-2 Suicide Rate per 100,000 for Young (15–24) Black and White Males
The statistical analysis using detailed county-level data (as described in Chapter 10 and Appendix A) can be applied to the question of the rise in rate of suicides in young black males. Comparing suicide rates in young white and black males, ages 15–24, from 1989–1998 reveals that the overall suicide rates have been decreasing over the past ten years and that, in 1989, the suicide rate in white males was significantly larger than the suicide rate in black males. However, the rate of young black suicides was increasing relative to young white males over the past 10 years. The increase in young black suicides was largest in 1993 and 1994, but has decreased somewhat since then.
The low rates of suicide among African Americans, especially women, has also been subject to some debate. Spirituality is one of the leading hypotheses regarding the low rates of suicide among black women. This may extend some protection to black males. While almost half the whites believed that suicide is sometimes justified, only one-fifth of blacks did (Robins et al., 1977). Furthermore, fewer whites believe in an after-life. One might also propose that similar to young white males, young black males may have more secular attitudes toward suicide and an after-life, but these attitudes change with age as black men mature. Another suggestion put forward (Comer, 1973) is that black women’s connections to community institutions such as the black church would protect black women from suicide. In fact, two-thirds of the African-American respondents to a National Mental Health Association (NMHA) survey on attitudes and beliefs about depression reported that they believed prayer and faith alone will successfully treat depression “almost all of the time” or “some of the time” (NMHA, 2000).
Since mental illness is a risk factor for suicide (see Chapter 3), the high prevalence of mental disorders among African-Americans compared with