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American Blacks Face Comparable Suicide Risk

Study refutes notion that suicide is a largely 'white' problem

TUESDAY, Oct. 31, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- About 4 percent of black Americans attempt suicide, a rate that is comparable to the general population but higher than previously estimated, researchers report in the Nov. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers analyzed data collected from nearly 5,200 blacks, aged 18 and older, who took part in the National Survey of American Life (NSAL) between February 2001 and June 2003.

They found the estimated lifetime prevalence of attempted suicide among black Americans was 4.1 percent (4.9 percent for women and 3.1 percent for men), while 11.7 percent had suicidal thoughts.

Caribbean black men had the highest prevalence of suicide attempts (7.5 percent), followed by black women (5 percent). Among blacks who reported suicidal thoughts, nearly 35 percent made a suicide plan and 21 percent made an unplanned attempt.

The risk of a suicide attempt and of suicidal thoughts were significantly associated with being younger, having a low level of education, living in the Midwest, and having one or more psychiatric disorders, the study said.

"The NASL results provide evidence that black Americans have levels of suicide thought and behaviors that are comparable with the general population," the authors wrote.

Suicide has traditionally been viewed as a problem that affects whites more than blacks. However, rates of suicides among black Americans have increased significantly since the 1980s.

"The results of the study should influence clinicians who screen patients at risk for suicide," the study authors wrote.

"Clinicians must also consider, when screening blacks, the strong association of (psychiatric) disorders with the risk for suicide attempts, the greater likelihood for young adults to be impulsive, and for older adults to engage in planned suicide attempts," they added.

Among all Americans, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about suicide.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, news release, Oct. 31 2006
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