Social Work Research on African Americans and Suicidal Behavior: A Systematic 25-Year Review
Sean foe and Danielle M. Niedermeier Suicide among African Americans is a neglected topic. Social workers practice in both clinical and nonchnical settings, and as the largest occupational group of mental health professionals, they have a unique opportunity to reach this underserved group. However, little is known about social work's empirical knowledge base for recognition and treatment of suicidal behavior among African Americans.The authors performed a systematic critical review of published articles by social workers on African American suicide and suicidal behavior, to ascertain the state of ...view middle of the document...
Although African Americans have lower rates of suicide completion than do white Americans, epidemiological research has documented dramatic changes in the rates of suicidal behavior among this population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1998). Most disturbing about the trend in suicide among African Americans is that the burden of self-destructive behavior disproportionately affects young male African Americans ages 15 to 24 (CDC, 1998).
There is a common perception that African Americans, particularly adolescents and young adults, do not engage in suicidal behavior at levels comparable to that of white Americans, but recent research disproves this assumption when looking across the life span. Young male African Americans complete suicide at rates comparable to those of white male Americans (joe & Kaplan,2001),the rates of firearm suicide have increased more precipitously for this subpopulation Qoe & Kaplan, 2002), and male African Americans are more likely to report engaging in nonfatal suicidal behavior, that is, attempted suicide ([oe & Marcus, 2003). According to the CDC (2004), the prevalence rates of attempted suicides in 2003 were higher among older African American (8.4 percent) and Latino (10.6 percent) high school students than were the rates for their white (6.9 percent) peers. These statistics reflect a dramatic increase in the rates of suicidality among male African Americans. As a result of these and other changes, the Institute of Medicine and the U.S. surgeon general have called for increased research on the suicide risk factors for African Americans and
CCC Code: 0360-7283/08 $3.00 6 2 0 0 8 National Association of Social Workers
other ethnic minority populations and for empirically tested treatments (Goldsmith et al., 2002; U.S. Public Health Service, 1999). Social workers are the largest occupational group of mental health professionals (Manderscheid et al, 2004), providing 70 percent of mental health services in the United States (Zlotnik & Solt, 2006), and are well positioned to intervene with suicidal African Americans. However, hecause of conventional wisdom that African Americans do not commit suicide (Early, 1992), social work clinicians may he unaware of the patterns of suicide or of the risk and protective factors among African Americans. This lack of awareness could cause misinterpretation of self-destructive hehaviors among this population. Social work clinicians have a significant role to play in the national strategy to prevent suicide, hut litde is known ahout social work's empirical knowledge base for practice in this area or the extent to which social work researchers have focused on this topic. It is important to review the state of social work knowledge regarding suicide risk factors and effective treatment approaches for African Americans hecause the largest increase in the professional mental health workforce has heen among social workers. During the period 1992 to 1998,...