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June 14, 2012

Military Turns to Black Women for Tips on Suicide Prevention

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Written by: Kelly Virella
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Airman Maudell P. Thompson, Titan missile facilities technician of the 533rd Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS), performs her duties. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Morning Calm News


truggling with high levels of suicide among active duty troops and veterans, the US military is turning to a new source for help — black women. Veterans Affairs officials want to know how they can emulate the elements of black female culture that keep our suicide rate the lowest in the nation, according to the National Journal

The suicide rate for black women was about 3 per 100,000, from 2005-2009, according to the Center for Disease Control. By contrast, the rate for Native American males — the highest in the nation — was 9 times higher, 27.61 per 100,000. Non-Hispanic white males also had a high rate — the second highest in the nation. It was more than 8 times higher than black women’s, 25.96 per 100,000.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center says that research has shown that black women have greater social support, larger extended families, religious taboos against suicide, and stronger mothering philosophies, all of which may act as protective factors.

However, while black women complete suicides at rates lower than other Americans, we attempt almost as frequently as white women, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) reported. By age 17, 4 percent of black teens, and more than 7 percent of black teen females, will attempt suicide, according to a 2009 study funded partly by NIMH. Despite our reputation as the backbone of the community, “African-American women are [not] always strong and resilient and never crack under pressure,” an SPRC fact sheet says.

This suggests that the military might need to take a nuanced look, focusing on how and why we’re more likely to survive suicide attempts. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how the military and Veterans Affairs attempts to study and implement these findings.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at how suicide levels varied by gender and age within the African-American community from 1999 to 2004.
Suicide Among African-Americans, 1999-2004

About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


Official portrait from his tenure as US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.