University of Michigan researcher Dr. Sean Joe thinks race is a protective factor in risk of suicide.
What social differences may account for the differing
rate of suicide between African Americans
in the South and in the Midwest? One difference
is that African Americans in the South are more orthodox in their religious views. Religion, particularly one’s subjective experience
of religion and one’s level of service attendance,
has been found to be associated with a lower risk for suicide. The reason for this is not clear, however; it may partly be due to religion’s impact on social connectedness and attitudes towards suicidal behavior.
The increase in lifetime suicide rates among younger African Americans similarly seems to be tied to social factors. An interesting fact that may help in explaining this increase is that, while the rate among males has increased, the rate among females has remained relatively constant.
Joe explained that the younger generation of African American males has a different social experience than its older counterpart that is responsible for differences in attitudes between the two generations. The younger generation has a more accepting attitude towards suicide. They may also have a greater tendency to attribute
both positive and negative life outcomes to their own actions rather than to events outside of their control. This attributional orientation allows them to take credit for their successes, but it can also be harmful because it may cause them to take too much responsibility for their failures and negative outcomes.
|The fact that African Americans in the Midwest have significantly higher suicide risk than those in the South hints at the importance of social factors.
Furthermore, the younger generation of African
American males also has different pressures and social stressors. They may have the notion that they should “act tough and look cool.” In other words, they may have a conceptualization of masculinity that may both put pressure on them and prevent them from seeking help. They may feel that help-seeking is seen as a weakness.
Females, on the other hand, are not afraid to talk to others if they are feeling down and also tend to be more religious than men.
Joe explained that there are really two traditions
of race theory. One is biologically based and the other is socially based. The biologically based theory defines race by genetic factors. The socially based definition of race, however,
includes factors such as how people view themselves in relation to others, how they interact with others and how they feel about themselves. Understanding these social factors
is essential to understanding the rise in suicide rates among African American males and the high rates of suicide in the United States in general.