The Cultural Distinctions In Whether, When And How People Engage In Suicidal Behaviour

By 2050, racial and ethnic minorities will make up more than half the U.S. population. That shift underscores the importance of understanding the unique suicide risk and protective factors of different groups, says University of Houston clinical psychology graduate student Mary O. Odafe, who along with colleagues have summarised the literature on suicide in adults (Current Psychiatry Reviews, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2016). “Suicide vulnerability is not ‘one size fits all,’ but varies by ethnicity,” says Odafe. “By summarizing common characteristics that have been consistently shown to relate to suicidality across ethnic-minority groups, we hope to highlight unique, culture-bound factors that may otherwise be overlooked in traditional risk-assessment procedures.” Examples of cultural characteristics related to suicide include but are not limited to the following:

Latinos. Fatalism coupled with negative attitudes about seeking support outside the family may contribute to the growing rate of suicide in this population.

African-Americans. This group has low suicide rates despite risk factors such as oppression and lack of access to care. Religiosity and stigma against suicide may protect them. 

Asian-Americans. This population has the United States’ lowest suicide rate. But perfectionism, pressures to achieve and low help-seeking behaviours can promote vulnerability to suicide.

American Indians and Alaska Natives. Intergenerational trauma—especially the legacy of forced removals of children for placement in boarding schools—may help explain this group’s disproportionately high rate of suicide.

Credit: Rebecca A. Clay for American Psychological Association, June 2018.

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