Black students in US ‘at higher risk of attempting suicide’

Study finds that students who are more likely to perceive stigma around mental health issues have greater odds of exhibiting suicidal behaviour 

December 4, 2019
Source: Getty

International students from Asia and black students are significantly more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers in the US, according to new research.

study based on a survey of 153,635 students between 2007 and 2018 found that Asian international students were 1.87 times more likely than white students to have attempted suicide in the previous year. Black students were 1.48 times more likely than white students to have done so.

Black students were also the most likely racial group to perceive public stigma towards receiving mental health treatment and suicidality, while Asian students experienced high scores on this measure too.

The paper, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, also found that LGBTQ students had much higher odds of attempting suicide than their heterosexual peers. Bisexual students were 2.48 times more likely to attempt suicide; gay, lesbian and queer students were 2.03 times more likely; and students who identified as “questioning or other” were 1.8 times more likely.

The percentage of students across all race groups who attempted suicide within the past year ranged between 0.06 per cent and 1.18 per cent, according to the research. Meanwhile, the share of students who made a suicide plan was between 2.12 per cent and 5.48 per cent, while the percentage of those who said they had seriously considered ending their life ranged between 6.34 per cent and 13.25 per cent.

Overall, students who showed greater endorsement of perceived public stigma around mental health reported significantly greater odds of having experienced suicidal ideation, planning and attempt within the past 12 months.

The results were based on the Healthy Minds Study, an annual web-based survey of students at about 300 colleges and universities.

Janelle Goodwill, a psychology PhD candidate at the University of Michigan and co-author of the study, said that the majority of previous studies on the topic found that black college students had a lower suicide risk than other racial groups, but she suspected this was owing to the low sample sizes of such students.

She added that the results of her paper show that “the people who need the most help are the ones who are endorsing the most stigma, which is concerning”.

Ms Goodwill said that universities should “normalise help-seeking from the moment that students step on to campus” and ensure that staff connected to different racial and ethnic groups are communicating this message.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com


If you’re having suicidal thoughts or feel you need to talk to someone, a free helpline is available round the clock in the UK on 116123, or you can email jo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

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