From the New York Times’ “Upshot” data journalism section:
What Can Be Learned From Differing Rates of Suicide Among Groups
White Americans have higher rates than most other racial and ethnic groups.
By Austin Frakt
Austin Frakt is director of the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System; associate professor with Boston University’s School of Public Health; and a senior research scientist with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He blogs at The Incidental Economist, and you can follow him on Twitter at @afrakt
Dec. 30, 2020
U.S. suicide rates vary widely across racial and ethnic groups in ways that can upend expectations. The explanations may suggest avenues for prevention.
Suicide in America has been rising for two decades, with rates for white Americans consistently well above those for Asian-Americans, Black Americans and Hispanics.
In data released in 2017, the rate for white Americans was around 19 per 100,000, and it was about 7.1 for both Hispanics and Asian-Americans/Pacific Islanders, and 6.6 for Black Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Emotional and social stress is associated with suicide. From this, a puzzle emerges.
Because of pervasive racism, Black Americans experience substantial stress, fewer opportunities for advancement and more threats to well-being. These negative experiences can degrade mental and physical health, as well as limit education, employment and income — all of which can increase suicide risk. Unemployment, which is higher for Black Americans than white Americans, is itself a source of stress.
Yet the Black suicide rate is about one-third that of whites.
OK, so Occam’s Razor might suggest, therefore, that African-Americans aren’t suffering much from pervasive racism, indeed, that they aren’t suffering all that much in general.
“Social stressors — lower socioeconomic status and racism among them — are more prevalent and severe for the Black population than the white one,” said Joshua Breslau, a senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND. “But suicide and some risk factors for it, like mental health conditions, are less prevalent in the Black population. This is puzzling.” …
Maybe one reason blacks have more social stressors is because they are less stressed about them?
But misclassification cannot fully explain the racial difference in suicide. Other factors may help protect Black Americans from suicide, despite conditions that would seem to place them at higher risk. Dawne Mouzon, a sociologist and associate professor at Rutgers University, suggested that religious involvement is one source of protection. Black Americans overwhelmingly identify as Christian. “Because of their faith, Black Americans are more likely to believe suicide precludes reaching heaven after death,” she said.
Although church membership has trended downward over the last two decades, it has been lower and fallen faster for white Americans than Black Americans. According to a national survey by the Pew Research Center, by almost any measure of religiosity, Black Americans are more religious than whites. Emotional and social support from a church congregation may also confer mental health benefits, Professor Mouzon added. …
Single parenthood is another possible explanation. Black women are more likely to be single parents than white women, and they have the lowest suicide rates across any race/gender group. (Suicide is less common among women than men in general.) …
Maybe blacks have low suicide rates because they externalize more than they internalize, as seen in their having a homicide rate 8.2 times as high as nonblacks in 2019? If somebody disses you, rather than dwell on what’s wrong with you that that person said something so unkind about you, you go get your Glock and start firing into the crowd of people eating BBQ in the general direction of your disser, well, that apparently relieves a lot of stress.
Experts say some reasons for the relatively low suicide rate among Latinos — who also tend to be poorer and face discrimination — are close social and family networks, which can build and maintain resilience, as well as moral objection to suicide based on religion. A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggested that immigrant families can lose some of that protection when they assimilate and lose ties to Latino culture. …
In the last two decades, there has been a sharp rise in so-called deaths of despair — suicides, drug overdoses or alcohol abuse — among middle-aged white Americans without a college degree. In their research on the subject, the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton pointed to, among other factors, loss of community and loss of status.
Over all, the C.D.C. report found higher suicide rates in rural America than in medium/small and large metropolitan counties. Most gun deaths in America are suicides, not murders, and white men are more likely to own a gun. The C.D.C. report said rates of suicide by gun in rural counties were “almost two times that of rates in larger metropolitan counties.”
Among Asian-Americans, one study suggests that collectivist cultures among immigrants that promote care for others could be a protective factor. Another points to close family relationships. But what holds for one group may not for another. Aparna Kalbag, a mental health research psychologist and advocate, works with South Asian-Americans. “Their relatively higher education also plays a role,” she said. “It influences how they perceive and react to mental health symptoms. They view them as something they can change, and they have the resources to do so.”
This is not the case with other, lower-income groups whose access to mental health care is more circumscribed.
And finally …
Suicide rates are highest among Native American and Alaska Native populations: 21.8 per 100,000 people.
So, the Ethnic Order goes: black (excuse me, Black), Hispanic, white, Asian, and, finally, Native American.
“Colonization is not only in the past,” said Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear, an assistant professor at U.C.L.A. and a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation. “It’s an ongoing system, a series of structures that continue to disenfranchise, erase and traumatize Indigenous peoples.”
One of the most obvious and tangible effects of colonization on those populations is their forced segregation into reservations and the intergenerational trauma that ensued from severing ancestral relationships to their lands, cultures, languages and ways of life. “The psychological, social, and economic harms this causes cannot be overstated,” Professor Rodriguez-Lonebear said.
From my review of Case & Deaton’s recent book “Deaths of Despair” about how they discovered the huge increase in white working class deaths since 2000 that everybody else had ignored in all the excitement over purported White Privilege:
“The more I study the White Death of the past two decades, the more I am instead reminded of the tragic trajectory of a now much less publicized American race, Native Americans. Like American Indians, working-class white Americans seem to be living, and dying, like a defeated people, quietly offing themselves with so little to-do that nobody even noticed what was happening to working-class white lifespans for the first fifteen years of this century.”