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New research exposes an alarming trend in rates of suicide among Black women

New research exposes an alarming trend in rates of suicide among Black women

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A new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry sheds light on an alarming trend: the increasing rates of suicide among Black women in the United States, particularly among the younger generation. The study, the first of its kind to explore the epidemiology of suicide among Black females by geographical region in the U.S., points to an urgent need for targeted interventions and increased access to mental health care.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health matters, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 (or 800-273-8255) or visit the NSPL site.

In their study, Victoria A. Joseph and her colleagues analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Multiple Cause of Death database, encompassing years 1999 through 2020. This database provided the researchers with detailed information on suicide deaths across various demographics, including race, sex, age, and U.S. census region.

By focusing on Black or African American females within the 15 to 84 age bracket — carefully excluding data points from those under 15 or over 84 due to reliability concerns — the study covered an expansive dataset of 9,271 suicide deaths.

To dissect the data, the researchers employed visualization techniques and statistical models that delineate age, period, and cohort (APC) effects. Hexagonal maps and modified Poisson regression models illuminated the relationships between these factors, revealing how suicide rates fluctuate across different generations, time periods, and ages. This analytical framework allowed for a precise identification of the populations at greatest risk, facilitating a deeper understanding of the dynamics at play.

The study’s findings paint a troubling picture: a significant increase in suicide rates among Black females, from 2.1 per 100,000 in 1999 to 3.4 per 100,000 in 2020. Alarmingly, this rise was most pronounced among young women aged 15–24, whose suicide rates soared from 1.9 to 4.9 per 100,000.

“Suicides are rapidly increasing among young, Black females in the U.S.,” said Joseph, an analyst in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School.

“These findings are in line with evidence that suicidal behaviors are increasing among minoritized youth. While the reasons why remain under investigation, it could be that cyberbullying and online racial attacks toward Black female youth may be on the rise, in particular, and therefore interventions targeting certain stressors are particularly critical for young Black women,” added Katherine Keyes, a professor of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School, and senior author.

The study’s age-period-cohort (APC) analysis further delineates three critical effects that contribute to this trend. Firstly, the age effect highlights higher suicide rates at younger ages, indicating an age-specific vulnerability. Secondly, the period effect suggests an overall increase in suicide rates over time, with a notable acceleration post-2010. Lastly, the cohort effect reveals the highest suicide rates among individuals born after 2002, pointing to a generational shift in the risk of suicide.

Moreover, the study sheds light on geographical variations in suicide rates among Black women in the U.S. The highest rates were observed in the West, while the most significant number of deaths occurred in the South, reflecting the region’s larger Black population. These geographical insights suggest that location-specific factors, possibly including access to mental health resources, socio-economic conditions, and community support systems, play a critical role in suicide trends.

The study by Joseph and her team not only underscores the growing issue of suicide among Black women but also opens several avenues for future research. Among the critical areas for exploration are the specific stressors that disproportionately affect young Black women, such as cyberbullying, online racial attacks, and systemic barriers to accessing mental health care.

The findings also call for a closer examination of the impact of racism, workplace discrimination, maternal health stressors, and violence on the mental health of Black women.

“Intimate partner violence, neighborhood violence, and lack of investment into federal and state support systems  also contribute to poor mental health outcomes and limited treatment access,” said Joseph, and “are overrepresented risk factors among Black girls and women in some areas.”

The study, “Trends in Suicide Among Black Women in the United States, 1999–2020,” was authored by Victoria A. Joseph, Gonzalo Martínez-Alés, Mark Olfson, Jeffrey Shaman, Madelyn S. Gould, Catherine Gimbrone, and Katherine M. Keyes.

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