The disproportionally high levels of suicide among (some) minority groups

It’s been written repeatedly, and it’s true: One of the most likely demographic to die by suicide are middle aged, white men. But, as a recent report in USA Today helps illuminate, we shouldn’t confuse this reality with the notion that white men are the most at risk – or that other groups don’t need very real assistance.

USA Today’s story, which was published earlier in the week, came with this stark headline: Suicide Rate for Native American Women is up 139%. Native American and Alaska Natives have a suicide rate 3.5 times higher than the lowest group – an astonishingly high number.

The story highlights a very, very ugly truth: In mental health – just like in health care generally speaking, unfortunately – minority communities have it worse. But, in the case of suicides, not every minority community is this way. For example, suicide rates among African Americans and Pacific Islanders have increased, but remain roughly half the rate of suicides as whites, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

suicideRatesByEthnicity.png

Meanwhile, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, rates of suicides among Hispanics also remain far below the United States average, with Hispanics dying by suicide at a rate of slightly more than half of the rest of the United States population.

This is good news, of course, and a very rare bit of good news when it comes to health care for black and Hispanic communities. What drives these rates lower? There are many theories, primarily the idea that strong family and community support provide a degree of resilience not available in other cultures, as well as the idea that self esteem and religiosity rates are higher among African Americans.

All of these factors may tie into why other minority groups have higher rates of suicide. LGBT community members are three times more likely to die by suicide. On average, LGBT members as well as Native Americans, have lower levels of self esteem, community support and family bonds.

In total: The minority suicide rates are not what they would reflexively seem to be. That’s something for all of us to keep in mind as we deal with public policy and suicide.

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