Experiences of racial discrimination may be linked to death ideation (thoughts of death or dying) in African American children, particularly in girls, according to a new study by a researcher at the University of Houston (UH).
The study, titled “A Longitudinal Study of Racial Discrimination and Risk for Death Ideation in African-American Youthā€¯ was led by UH psychology professor Rheeda Walker. Her findings are published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.
“When a child experiences discrimination, he or she may say to themselves, ‘I’m not worthy’ or ‘I’m not good enough,'” said Walker. “Effective interventions can offset these feelings and help a child’s self esteem.”
For the study, Walker analyzed data previously gathered from interviews with 722 African-American children recruited from schools in Georgia and Iowa. These boys and girls were interviewed at age 10 and again at age 12. In her analysis, Walker noted that more than one-third of the adolescents reported death ideation. This ideation was accounted for in part by experiences of racial discrimination.
Walker found that girls who expressed nervousness, fear, or depression due to racial discrimination were somewhat more likely to think about death than boys.
During interviews, students responded to questions related to racially motivated slurs, insults, and unfair treatment, as well as experiences in which others placed low expectations on them solely due to their race.
Walker’s findings offer crucial insight for educators and parents, who can perhaps implement interventions if they suspect or observe racial discrimination, as well as feelings of anxiety or stress following incidents of discrimination. In the classroom, interventions could take the form of multicultural curriculum that promotes inclusivity, she said.
Although thoughts of suicide were rarely expressed or asked about during the interviews, Walker said that death ideation can be a predictor of suicide. Her study may help bring attention to students in crisis, as current research has discovered an increased number of suicides by African-American children. Walker addressed this issue in a recent online op-ed for Ebony magazine.
While the study does not detail specific interventions, Walker noted that parents and educators can implement or encourage adaptive coping methods to support children affected by racial discrimination. These may include encouraging children to talk about their feelings either with parents or friends or writing them down in journal entries.
Source: University of Houston