Religiosity May Reduce Suicidal Thoughts in African-Americans

Research suggests religiosity among African-Americans helps to keep suicidal rates low despite the psychological stress of racism.

“African-Americans experience an inordinate amount of psychological strain through racial discrimination, leading to depression, hopelessness, and other high risk factors for suicide, but demonstrate significantly lower rates of suicide relative to European-Americans,” said Rheeda Walker, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Houston and principal researcher of a new study in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

Investigators say the goal of the study is to assess suicide ideation (thinking about, considering or planning for suicide), depressive symptoms, intrinsic/extrinsic religiosity (religious orientation), and perceived racism.

Researchers studied a community sample of 236 African-American men and women.

Walker notes suicide does exist for African-Americans, but it’s rarely noticed and understudied. She cites suicide as one of the leading causes of death among African-Americans and that approximately, 1,900 African-American adults and youth die by suicide each year.

“There is a belief that if one creates psychological science and knowledge, such knowledge ought to apply universally to everyone. That is simply not the case,” said Walker. “We need to spend more time finding out what depression means for African-Americans and across ethnic groups.

“What does suicide look like for African Americans? Are there self-destructive behaviors that are suicidal, but not considered as suicide?”

The findings from Walker’s research provide evidence that perceived racism may play a role in suicide vulnerability.

The study’s contributions are important in the context of providing evidence that despite the harmful effects of racism, extrinsic religiosity (external motivation for being religious, such as meeting people, community conformity, cultural heritage, etc.) buffered these effects.

Moreover, previous research has discovered that people who experience high levels of stress experience relief in supportive religious settings.

In the current study, people who reported higher levels of more socially oriented, extrinsic religiosity did not report suicide ideation when experiencing symptoms of depression.

The study is the first to study the benefits of religiosity in an environment of perceived discrimination and depression.

“Although discrimination can have adverse emotional consequences, the findings suggest that the ‘use’ of religion perhaps to connect with others or to meet some other need can be emotionally helpful among individuals who experience racism,” said Walker.

In this context, Walker hopes religion might be used to obtain social cohesion and relief from emotional distress that might be experienced by others in similar circumstances.

Source: University of Houston

 
Woman praying photo by shutterstock.