The Research Brief is a short summary of interesting academic work.
The big idea
A sense of hopelessness about the future is one of the top reasons black young adults consider suicide. That is one of the keywords findings from a new study I published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. Hopelessness was found to be the most common reason black men contemplated suicide, and it was one of the most common reasons black women contemplate suicide.
The black young adult women in this study were more likely to seriously consider suicide because they couldn’t live up to other people’s expectations and because they felt lonely and sad.
The study analyzed survey responses from 264 black young adults between the ages of 18 and 30. I recruited online participants from across the US and asked them to complete a single survey in Spring 2020 listing eight possible reasons why they may have considered suicide in the past two weeks. The data and participant responses highlighted in this article are from a larger study focusing more broadly on mental health issues among black young adults.
In my previous work, I have investigated whether encountering racial discrimination, experiencing feelings of worthlessness, and adopting different strategies to cope with stress are related to increase or decrease in suicidal ideation. However, this new study builds on my previous research by examining some of the specific reasons why black young adults consider suicide.
In my research, the top reasons black young adults consider suicide can be divided into three main categories. First, people who experienced pronounced feelings of failure, hopelessness, being overwhelmed, and a lack of achievement made up about 59% of the study sample. The second category, which comprised nearly a third of the study participants, included those who considered suicide because they felt somewhat hopeless and other reasons not captured in this study. The last category included young black adults who reported that although they were successful in life, they still felt extremely lonely and sad. Participants in this latter group made up 9% of the total study sample.
Why it matters
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a 36.6% increase in suicides among young black Americans ages 10 to 24 from 2018 to 2021. Suicide rates have also increased among American Indian or Alaska Native, Hispanic, and multiracial adults ages 25 to 44. Therefore, it is critical to better understand the underlying factors contributing to this trend.
Other national data shows that the number of suicides increased every year both black adolescent boys and girls from 2003 to 2017. Still, more research is needed to measure suicide risk among black youth as they transition from adolescence to young or early adulthood.
It is also important to note that there is rarely a single reason why someone considers taking their own life. Instead, different events or painful circumstances may occur over time that ultimately affect a person’s suicide risk. Loved ones who understand why black young adults are considering suicide will be better equipped to support their friends and relatives who may be suicidal by pointing out guided resources and encouraging them to seek professional help for their specific mental health needs.
These findings can also be used to develop therapeutic interventions designed to intentionally address the needs of black young adults who are actively or passively contemplating ending their lives.
What is not yet known
While the results of this study are helpful in confirming that hopelessness is the leading reason for suicidal ideation in black young adults, researchers have yet to identify the specific sources of hopelessness for this particular population.
Importantly, I collected this data using a single survey during the first phase of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and the timing of this study may have shaped participants’ responses. Therefore, I will be testing the same survey questions over a longer period of time with different samples of black young adults to determine if there are any potential changes.