How Do Suicides Differ Among Minority Communities?

By Gaan Akers, LPC, NCC | May 25, 2023

Suicide is complex, and people with specific backgrounds and identities are at higher risk. Specifically, minority communities face disproportionate factors linked to suicide, like substance use, health disparities, physical or mental health problems and financial concerns. Additionally, anyone who has experienced violence, including adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) like physical abuse, bullying and sexual violence, has a higher suicide risk. 

Understanding the disparities between certain groups and factors contributing to suicide risk is crucial for preventing it. 

In This Article

Disparities in Suicide Rates Among Minority Groups

While people of any age, race, ethnicity or sex can experience a risk of suicide, minority groups seem to face higher rates of suicide. Here are a few ways suicide rates might differ among these communities:

Differing Motives

Studies find that ethnic minorities often die by suicide for different reasons than their white counterparts. Among different minority groups, such as African-, Asian- or Latino-Americans, cultural distinctions reflect the differing motivations of people to choose or reject suicide. Some groups might be more motivated by external stressors like job loss or discrimination and less by internal stressors like hopelessness. 

Suicidal behavior varies within sex and age as well. For example, motivations among European-descent older adults for suicide often come down to health and disparity problems, where they may see themselves facing a situation in which suicide is the reasonable or moral response. Specifically, older adult men may see suicide as a way to escape the self-perceived indignity of aging and being in control of their deaths like they were in control of their lives. 

Trauma and Prejudice

Past trauma related to racism, prejudice and discrimination can also affect suicide risk. Among American Indians or Indigenous Americans, who have the highest rate of suicide in the U.S., motivations can often stem from generations of human rights abuses and trauma. For adolescents struggling with sexual orientation or gender identity, the motive might be bullying, abuse or feeling trapped. 

Historical adversity also translates to socioeconomic disparities, with Black and African Americans facing them disproportionately. These factors are also linked to mental health, with minority communities living below the poverty level being more likely to report psychological distress. 

Experiences related to hate crimes or violence can also contribute to trauma and mental distress. Xenophobic racism against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic led to a surge in hate crimes, averaging 100 per day, which may be a factor in increasing rates of suicide among these communities.

Internal and External Pressures

Minority communities and suicide risk can also stem from internal and external pressures. These groups may be more vulnerable since suicide often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create feelings of hopelessness. 

Latina adolescents are especially at risk of external pressures, studies show. Family conflict and stressors can often play a role, where girls wish to move toward autonomy, such as wearing new clothes, while their parents cling to old traditions. For those who recently immigrated to the U.S., the clash between old and new values might prompt suicidal thoughts from feeling caught between two cultures.

Other risk factors can emerge from within the cultures themselves. For Asian Americans, the loss of position in society can prompt suicidal ideation. These feelings often arise from shame, as revealed in a study among Chinese, Japanese and other East Asian Americans, which can increase the risk of suicide.

Different Levels of Access to Resources and Health Care

While suicide can be prevented with treatment, minority populations face multiple health care barriers perpetuated by structural racism. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, yet it often goes untreated or undiagnosed among these communities. 

Different Levels of Access to Resources and Health Care

For example, young people with minority ethnic backgrounds are less likely to receive medical assessments following self-harm than their white counterparts. And people from these backgrounds might be viewed as having a lower risk of suicide by health professionals since they aren’t aware of how cultures, backgrounds and beliefs can inform suicidality. 

Additionally, Black and African Americans are offered medication or therapy at a lower rate than the general population. And following the Affordable Care Act, studies show 11.5% of Black and African Americans vs. 7.5% of white Americans are still uninsured.

Suicide Rate by Race and Ethnicity

Suicide rates vary by race and ethnicity. However, it’s crucial to realize that suicide is complex and these components only make up part of someone’s identity. For instance, age, sex and poverty are important factors regarding suicide risk. 

Here’s a look at the differences in suicide rates among different racial and ethnic minority groups: 

Black and African American

Black and African Americans living below the poverty level are twice as likely to report severe mental distress as those living two times above it. They are also more likely to report hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness than adult whites. Studies show deaths have increased for Black Americans recently, with the highest rate among those aged 25 to 34. 

Latinx

Studies show Latina adolescents attempt suicide at higher rates than other gender and ethnic groups, with 17% of Hispanic and Latino high school students having thoughts of suicide. The suicide rate among Hispanic adults increased by over 70% between 2010 and 2020, with more than 4,500 Hispanic and Latino individuals dying by suicide in the U.S.

Asian American

Asian suicide rates are disproportionately high, with suicide being the leading cause of death for Asian Americans ages 15 to 24. Another study reported 70% of Southeast Asian refugees receiving mental health care are diagnosed with PTSD, which can increase the risk of suicide. 

Native or Indigenous American

Suicide rates are highest among American Indian, Alaska Native and white populations. These rates rose 139% among Native American women and 71% for men between 1999 and 2017. And since Native Americans face economic barriers and high poverty levels, many cannot receive proper mental health treatment. Additionally, three times as many Native Americans lack health insurance than whites, which can prevent them from receiving life-saving treatment.

Risk Factors Among Minority Communities

Minority communities and suicide risk factors can include: 

  • Past suicide attempt(s)
  • Alcohol and substance use disorders
  • Mood and anxiety disorders
  • Higher access to lethal means
  • Poverty and socioeconomic factors
  • Historical trauma
  • History of violence and racism
  • Cultural distress
  • Geographic isolation

Get Comprehensive, Inclusive Mental Health Care at Hillside

Get Comprehensive, Inclusive Mental Health Care at Hillside

While many factors place minority groups at risk of suicide, effective mental health care, culturally sensitive therapy and a connectedness to community can be crucial preventative factors. At Hillside, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are primary values driving our programs, from residential and day treatment to virtual intensive outpatient therapy (VIOP) and intensive in-home therapy. Each program takes a culturally-sensitive approach to address your unique background and identity. We aim to provide effective, inclusive and comprehensive mental health treatment to help you with any struggles you might be facing. 

To learn more about our programs, contact us today. 

Author

  • Hillside Clinical Education & Referral Relations Manager - Gaan has been working with children, adolescents, and families for over 10 years in various settings. In her current role, she provides education and training for mental health professionals, parents, and the community. She lives in Atlanta with her husband. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, climbing, and cooking. She is a donut aficionado and a national park enthusiast!

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