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Religion and Black American Suicidal Behavior: Clinical Implications

Sean Joe, PhD, LMSW
Associate Professor of Social Work
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Medical School
Associate Director, Research & Training, Program for Research on Black Americans, ISR
Founding Director, Emerging Scholars Interdisciplinary Network, University of Michigan

Religion has historically been and is still a major component of Black culture. Present research supports the positive association between religion and health, yet the specific aspects of religion that are beneficial have not been identified. Black Americans, despite their several risk factors for premature death including poverty, high infant morbidity rates, and socioeconomic status, exhibit an advantage over Whites in the low prevalence of suicide attempt and ideation. The present study aimed to assess whether religious participation and spirituality were correlated with the reductions in the risk for suicidal behavior, furthering our understanding of what specific aspects of religiosity serve as protective factors for suicide. Data were taken from a nationally representative sample of 5181 African American and Caribbean Americans, aged 18 years and older. Results indicated that the dimensions of religious participation that were associated with reduced risk for suicide among Black Americans was organizational religiosity (e.g. service attendance). There were no significant associations between the factors nonorganizational religiosity (e.g. reading religious materials), subjective religiosity (i.e. importance of religion in one’s life and spirituality) and suicide attempt or ideation. These findings indicate that organizational religiosity is a key protective factor for suicide prevention for Black Americans. This study makes a rare contribution to our understanding of the various dimensions of religion that are associated with reduced risk for suicide among Black Americans.


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