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Suicide rates for Blacks lower than for Whites

By Veita Bland, M.D. / March 11, 2016

When interviewed about suicide Black women often say, “I have too many people to take care of to kill myself.”

When interviewed about suicide Black women often say, “I have too many people to take care of to kill myself.”

The word suicide is not a word often used in the African American community. This notion was called into question with the recent suicide of a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement in Ohio. MarShawn M. McCarrel, II, a 23 year old leader of Ohio’s Black Lives Matter movement killed himself. I remember being shocked when I heard the news and thinking this is so unlike a Black man or was my observation in error?

When retrieving data from the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the topic of suicide, the data has remained constant. African American women have the lowest rate of suicide of any group in this country – their rate is two people in 100,000. For Caucasion women, the rate is twice as high. When we look at our African American males we see a similar fate. It is half the rate of White males. Why is a group of people who have lived through such adversity been unwilling to end it all by killing themselves? No one knows the answer to this question.

Dr. Carl C. Bell, a retired professor of psychiatry and public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago and now a staff psychiatrist at Jackson Park Hospital’s Outpatient Family Practice Clinic in Chicago states that much research needs to be done to answer this question.

Dr. Bell states that some say that spirituality protects African Americans from such self-destructive behavior. He reports that when he asks this question to Black women , they typically say, “I don’t have time to kill myself” and “I have too many people to take care of to kill myself.” These answers are considered anecdotal, with no scientific backing.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people. Death by suicide rates for young people have reportedly been as high as 20 people per 100,000. This though, is still a very small number and performing research on such is quite difficult. Research on suicide prevention would have to look at depression, schizophrenia, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders. These conditions are known to increase the occurrence of suicide as does anxiety, alcoholism and drug addiction. The effect of trauma in childhood is also a player in this arena.
Research needs to be conducted to determine why a people so maligned by society, and with high stress in life have the lowest rates of suicide. Is it the religion factor? Does the constant fact of stress in some way insulate against self-destruction? Or are African Americans self-destructing by self-medications with drugs and alcohol? Are poor dietary habits with low rates of exercising masking a wave of self-destruction?

African Americans may not be committing suicide out right but African Americans have the shortest life spans. White women have the longest. To say that research needs to be done on this is an understatement but who will think it is valuable enough to perform? Who will fund it? Thank you Dr. Bell, for sounding the alarm. We must pick up the cause.

Veita Bland is a board certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Email Dr. Bland at


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