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Protecting African American Adolescents from Suicidal Behavior

Matin, S, Molock, S, & Tebes, J. (2011). Suicidality and depression among African American adolescents: The role of family and peer support and community connectedness. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 81(1), 108-117.

A team of researchers from Yale and George Washington universities investigated the role of social support in preventing suicidal behavior among African American adolescents, a group which has not been the subject of as much research as their white counterparts. Their work confirms the value of strengthening social supports as a way to reduce suicide risk among African American youth.

The team was especially interested in understanding how to protect young African Americans from the consequences of depression, which can increase the risk of suicidal behavior. The research focused on family support, peer support, and community connectedness, all of which have been shown to help protect young people from suicidal behavior.

The research confirmed that depression is associated with both ideation and suicide attempts among African American youth. All three types of social support were found to help protect young people from depression. Family and peer support offered protection against suicidality; community connectedness offered some protection, but not as much as family and peer support did. Peer support offered some protection from suicidality for adolescents with low levels of depressive symptoms but not for those with higher levels of depression. In contrast, family support and community connectedness provided protection to adolescents with high levels of depression.

The three types of social support were found to account for more than one-third of the variability in a measure called “reasons for living,” which previous research has shown to lower the risk of attempting suicide even in the presence of suicidal ideation. Data analysis also revealed that low levels of reasons for living were associated with suicide attempts and depression. The authors suggest that their finding that reasons for living are associated with the risk of suicide attempts, but not suicide ideation, points to the value of this measure as a tool to assess suicide risk in African American adolescents.

Read the abstract at www.pubmed.gov.