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High Rate of Suicidal Thoughts Among Black Men in Rural America: Study
  • Posted March 28, 2024

High Rate of Suicidal Thoughts Among Black Men in Rural America: Study

Suicidal thoughts and contemplation of death haunt the minds of many rural Black men in the United States, a new study reports.

One in three rural Black men said they had such dark thoughts within the past two weeks, University of Georgia researchers found.

These thoughts are driven by childhood trauma, poverty and exposure to racism, all of which take a heavy toll on mental health as Black teens enter adulthood, researchers said.

“We found when Black men were exposed to childhood adversity, they may develop an internal understanding of the world as somewhere they are devalued, where they could not trust others, and they could not engage the community in a supportive way,” said researcher Michael Curtis, a graduate of the University of Georgia's College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Racial discrimination in particular predicted higher rates of suicidal thoughts, researchers found.

Even Black men who reported positive childhood experiences struggled to maintain healthy relationships if they had experienced racial discrimination, results show. As a result, they were more likely to feel isolated and experience thoughts of suicide.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Black people between the ages of 15 and 24, researchers said in background notes.

Further, Black men die by suicide at a rate four times that of Black women.

“We just know it's bad, and particularly among young Black men,” Curtis said. “Historically, research has not invested a lot of time and effort in looking into what are the unique cultural contexts that make certain men more at risk for suicidal thoughts than other men.”

For the study, researchers followed more than 500 Black men from their late teens through early 20s in rural Georgia.

At three different times as they grew, the men were asked to reflect on their childhood, including economic hardships and traumatic experiences.

They also were asked about their feelings and beliefs about close relationships, and whether they'd had any symptoms of depression or thoughts of suicide.

The results suggest that growing up poor and being subjected to racial discrimination makes it difficult to engage in healthy and trusting relationships, researchers said.

The new study was published recently in the journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.

Men whose strong feelings of mistrust and caution toward others can lead them to feel isolated, which in turn can prompt thoughts of death and suicide, the researchers found.

“The quality of our relationships is what sustains human beings,” said lead researcher Steven Kogan, a professor in UGA's College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “For people who have suicidal thoughts, there's this sense that no one knows me, nobody cares about me, there's nobody there for me, I am alone.”

Suicidal thoughts can set in quickly, and healthy relationships are one of the best antidotes, researchers said. Just having someone to talk to about these feelings helps abate them.

Black parents can play a key role in helping their boys fend off these thoughts, Kogan said.

“More research is needed, but one finding is unequivocal: Loving yourself as a Black person is foundational,” Kogan said in a university news release. “Teaching children and youth to be proud of being Black counters the potential for them to internalize negative messages about Blackness that pervade U.S. society.”

More information

Mental Health America has more about racism and mental health.

SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, March 26, 2024

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