Sunday, January 29, 2023

Racial discrimination linked to suicidal thoughts in black adults and children

Frederick Douglass is considered one of the most prominent abolitionists of all time. Along with his extraordinary contributions as an influential speaker, author, and human rights advocate, Douglas—who was born into slavery and gained freedom in September 1838—also wrote candidly about his struggles with suicidal thoughts.

Douglas’ writings are both revolutionary and transformative, especially considering that he lived in a time when many anti-literacy laws prevented enslaved blacks from learning to read and write.

Douglas published his first autobiography – “The Tale of the Life of Frederick Douglass” – in 1845. In it, he boldly shared, “I often found myself regretting my existence, and wishing myself to be dead; and for the hope of being free, I have no doubt that I should have killed myself, or Did something for which I should have been killed.”

It’s not hard to imagine why a formerly enslaved person like Douglas would consider ending his own life. However, it may be difficult for some to understand the links between racism, discrimination, and suicidal thoughts among black Americans today.

Frederick Douglass described how his feelings of hopelessness were countered by his hope of being free.
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site/NPS

The United States abolished chattel slavery in 1865 through the Thirteenth Amendment. However, black Americans are still grappling with the effects of both structural and everyday forms of racism that permeate American customs, culture, and laws.

As a researcher and assistant professor at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice, I explore how factors such as discrimination, stigma, and depression contribute to suicide risk in Black Americans. I also assess that positive psychological forces – such as a sense of life purpose or receiving social support from others – can improve a person’s mental health outcomes.

Several studies have reported that exposure to discrimination is associated with negative mental and physical health outcomes in Black Americans. These may include increased rates of depression, high blood pressure and sleep disturbances. Fewer studies have explored how racial discrimination is related to suicide risk.

So, in 2019 I led a study that examined whether racial discrimination was associated with depression and suicidal thoughts in adult black men.

The events that have emerged since this study was published underscore the need for this research.

My work, along with research by many other scholars, confirms that any attempt to systematically address the unequal treatment of black Americans—such as the White House’s emphasis on advancing educational equity and economic opportunity— The executive order – the methods should also be accounted for. What racial discrimination has affected the mental health outcomes of this particular population.

Racial discrimination and mental health

My co-authors and I analyzed survey responses from more than 1,200 African American men aged 18 to 93 who lived in different states using US data, originally from 2001 to 2003 through the National Survey of American Life. were collected from. The project was led by the late social psychologist James S. Jackson, whose phenomenal career changed the way black Americans are represented and studied in research.

The survey is one of the few nationally representative data sources that uses probability – or random – sampling to explicitly address the mental health experiences of black adolescents and adults.

We decided to focus our study on black men because historically, black men have been four to six times more likely to die by suicide than black men.

Participants in this national survey were asked to rate the number of times they faced discrimination in their daily lives. Surveyed experiences ranged from being treated with little courtesy or respect to being harassed and stalked in stores, as well as being perceived as dishonest, not smart, or not as good as others.

We analyzed men’s responses with a series of statistical tests that measured whether different forms of discrimination were related to negative mental health outcomes. We found that Black men who reported more frequent encounters with racial discrimination were more likely to experience symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts at some point in their lifetime.

These findings suggest that discrimination experiences do not have to be explicit or extreme in order to be harmful. Rather, regular acts of racial discrimination that may initially seem minor can become increasingly stressful over time.

When interpreting these results, it is important to note that we analyzed the findings of a cross-sectional study. This means that the survey was only administered to the participants at one time. Therefore, we were able to establish a relationship between the variables, but cannot use this data to confirm that racial discrimination caused post-suicidal thoughts.

Nonetheless, our findings still take an important step forward by establishing links between racial discrimination, depression symptoms and lifelong suicidal thoughts.

Mental health of black children and youth

Our study builds on other research that has identified a relationship between racial discrimination and suicidal thoughts in Black Americans.

For example, University of Houston clinical psychologist Rida Walker and her colleagues found that among 722 black children, experiences of racial discrimination were associated with greater depression and greater odds of suicidal thoughts two years later. Members of the research team approached the participants twice and asked the same survey questions – once at age 10 and again at age 12.

The findings resulting from their 2017 study are particularly meaningful because the authors analyzed the data over time, allowing them to confirm that racial discrimination predicts an increase in suicidal thoughts, not the other way around.

Since then, clinicians, researchers, and organizational leaders have partnered with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to bring attention to the urgent mental health needs of black youth. In 2019, the group created an emergency task force and released a powerful report that carefully describes the current state of suicide among black youth.

As detailed in various studies, black children aged 5 to 12 were twice as likely to die by suicide than white children, with young black boys particularly vulnerable to suicide risk. Were. Notably, there has also been a significant increase in suicide rates among black teenage girls in recent years.

In response to these concerns, leaders at the National Institutes of Health have allocated research funding and invited applications for projects promoting suicide prevention among black youth.

Researchers are also beginning to explore links between structural forms of racism and suicide risk. For example, a study published in 2020 found that being wrongly fired and experiencing police abuse were associated with suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts among black adults.

Despite these advances in research, it remains unclear whether any existing suicide prevention interventions account for the specific ways that racial discrimination affects the psychological and emotional well-being of Black Americans.

Therefore, it will be essential for researchers, clinicians, and community members to work together to promote the mental health needs of Black children and adults, as well as encourage Black Americans to live up to the expectation that Frederick Douglass claimed more than 175 years ago.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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