Race and Medicine

Race and Medicine

October 01, 2019
1 min read
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Current suicide interventions may not fully account for race, ethnicity

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Rheeda Walker

The current “one size fits all” approach to suicide prevention does not account for racial/ethnic minority groups, according to findings published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.

“When we think about the circumstances that could lead to suicide and/or suicide-attempt behavior, we (mental health professionals, loved ones, friends, etc.) may need to think bigger and beyond the usual suspects or risk factors, i.e. depression,” Rheeda Walker, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Houston, told Healio Psychiatry.

According to Walker, it is important for clinicians to resist assuming that suicide risk is the same for everybody.

Walker and colleagues analyzed data from the 2008 to 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health and included 218,765 individuals aged 18 years and older for whom suicide ideation or suicide attempt data were available. They used multiple logistic regression analyses to examine psychological, substance use and sociodemographic predictors of 12-month suicide ideation and attempts across six US racial/ethnic groups. The cohort was 63.1% white, 16% Latino, 12.6% black, 4% Asian or Pacific Islander (A/PI), 2.9% multiracial and 1.5% American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN).

Walker and colleagues reported that commonly cited factors were associated with increased risk for suicide ideation and attempt for some racial/ethnic groups, but not for others. Specifically, 12-month depression with suicide attempts during the survey period for A/PI, AI/AN, Latinos and white, but not for multiracial or black adults, the researchers . alcohol abuse and dependence associated with suicide attempt AI/AN, black and white adults, but not for other racial/ethnic groups; marijuana usage was a factor in suicide attempts in both white and multiracial adult groups, but not for other groups and A/PIs classified as low income were three times more likely to attempt suicide than A/PIs with higher incomes.

According to the researchers, only psychological distress was consistently associated with suicide attempts and suicide ideation across groups.

Clinically, suicide death is very challenging to predict, but if clinicians fail to raise certain other predictors (i.e. alcohol abuse and dependence for African Americans) to the level of alarm as for others (i.e. depression), an important piece of the diagnostic pie is overlooked,” Walker said. – by Joe Gramigna

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.