Suicide Acceptability and Religious Well-Being: A Comparative Analysis in African American Suicide Attempters and Non-Attempters

Article excerpt

This study was designed to examine the relationship between suicide acceptability and religious well-being, and to investigate the differences that may exist between African American suicide attempters and non-attempters on these two concepts. Two hundred low-income, African Americans were administered self-report questionnaires measuring suicide acceptability and religious well-being. Findings indicated that suicide acceptability was negatively related to religious well-being for both suicide attempters and non-attempters. There was also a significant difference between these two groups on suicide acceptability and religious well-being. Results were consistent with previous research that suggests that African Americans who attempt suicide endorse higher levels of suicide acceptability and lower levels of religious well-being than do their nonattempter counterparts. These findings have important implications for culturally-competent community programming and community mental health programs that serve low-income ethnic minority populations.

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Suicide is a serious problem facing many different types of people in the United States. Although it is difficult for research to demonstrate exact national attempted suicide rates, research has estimated that to every completed suicide, there are 8-25 suicide attempts (see http://www.nimh.nih.gov/research/suifact). The Surgeon General made recommendations in the Suicide Prevention Call to Action in 1999, which we attempted to address in the present study. Two of the recommendations proposed in this report were to advance the science of suicide prevention by researching risk and protective factors related to suicidal behavior, and to address culture-specific issues related to suicidal behavior (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). The purpose of the present study was to further examine the effects of potential risk factors (i.e., suicide acceptability) and protective factors (i.e., religious well-being) on suicidal behavior in African Americans.

SUICIDE IN AFRICAN AMERICANS

Suicide within the African American community has not been assessed as much as it has been examined among Caucasians. This may be because despite significant economic and social stressors facing the African American community (e.g., racial discrimination and economic strains), African Americans are consistently reported to have lower suicide rates than European Americans (Lester, 1998; Maris, Berman, & Silverman, 2000; Poussaint & Alexander, 2000). The literature suggests that these lower rates may be partly attributable to culturally relevant protective factors (Gibbs, 1997; Satcher, 1998), such as the important role of religion and the importance of supportive extended family networks within the African American community (Range et al., 1999). However, research also suggests that the lower rates of suicide among African Americans may be partly attributed to underreporting because of an increased sense of stigma for suicide and because of misclassification of suicides as homicides or accidents (Phillips & Ruth, 1993). Thus, it is probable that these rates may actually be higher among African Americans than the statistics portray. In addition, recent statistics have demonstrated that the suicide rates of young African American teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 are increasing comparatively faster than the rates for Caucasian teenagers (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report [MMWR], 1998). Given the possibility of underreporting and this increasing suicide rate among young African Americans, an examination of both risk and protective factors for suicidal behavior is warranted in this vulnerable group within the African American community.

Suicide Acceptability

Gibbs (1997) identified several suicide risk factors in the African American community, including substance abuse, psychiatric disorder, and family and marital/relationship discord. …