[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 31-Mar-2008
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Contact: Sally Webster
s.webster@qmul.ac.uk
020-788-25404
Queen Mary, University of London

Young black men are at higher risk of suicide than their white counterparts

A study examining suicide rates and pre-suicide clinical symptoms in people from different ethnic groups, has found that rates of suicide vary between ethnic groups with young black men aged 13 to 24 at highest risk.

The research, published today (1 April 2008) in the medical journal Psychiatric Services, suggests that symptoms traditionally associated with suicide are less common among some ethnic groups, and cannot be relied upon for predicting suicide.

Led by Kam Bhui, Professor of Cultural Psychiatry and Epidemiology at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, the study looked at the four largest ethnic groups in England and Wales – black Caribbean; black African; South Asian (Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi), and white. A comparison between ethnic groups was made of the symptoms that clinicians consider increase the risk of suicide: suicidal ideas, delusions and hallucinations, depressive symptoms, deliberate self-harm, emotional distress, hopelessness, and hostility.

Researchers examined data from the National Confidential Inquiry (NCI), which receives data on all potential suicides from the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics, and investigates suicides within 12 months of contact with mental health services in England and Wales.

The black African and black Caribbean people who committed suicide suffered from high levels of delusions and hallucinations and deliberate self-harm, but had low rates of other clinical indicators of suicide at the last contact they had with a mental health services professional. Schizophrenia is the most common diagnosis among black Africans and black Caribbeans who commit suicide, and they are less likely to have suicidal ideas and depression than the other groups.

South Asian people who committed suicide had high levels of hopelessness, psychotic symptoms, and depression, but low levels of suicidal thoughts compared with the white group. Immediate risk of suicide was perceived to be highest among white people.

Suicides within 24 hours of professional contact were most often reported among black Caribbeans, and suicide within one to seven days was most commonly found among black Africans.

The study found high levels of suicide among black African and black Caribbean men aged 13 to 24, living in England and Wales. Clinicians reported that suicide was preventable in 31 per cent of black Caribbeans who committed suicide, and in 18 per cent of South Asians who committed suicide.

The findings offer advice for future strategies and research to prevent suicides. Professor Bhui said: “Suicide is proportionally more common among young black African and black Caribbean men. Untreated psychosis and ethnic differences in symptoms that usually predict suicide may explain these findings, especially the suggestion by clinicians that a third of suicide in the black Caribbean group were preventable. These findings argue for a more mature and informed cultural study of suicide and self harm, alongside more effective engagement and culturally appropriate interventions.”

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For further information please contact:
Sally Webster
Communications Office
Queen Mary, University of London
Tel: 020 7882 5404
Email: s.webster@qmul.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry

Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry offers international levels of excellence in research and teaching while serving a population of unrivalled diversity amongst which cases of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, TB, oral disease and cancers are prevalent, within east London and the wider Thames Gateway. Through partnership with our linked trusts, notably Barts and The London NHS Trust, and our associated University Hospital trusts – Homerton, Newham, Whipps Cross and Queen’s – the School’s research and teaching is informed by an exceptionally wide ranging and stimulating clinical environment.

At the heart of the School’s mission lies world class research, the result of a focused programme of recruitment of leading research groups from the UK and abroad and a £100 million investment in state-of-the-art facilities. Research is focused on translational research, cancer, cardiology, clinical pharmacology, inflammation, infectious diseases, stem cells, dermatology, gastroenterology, haematology, diabetes, neuroscience, surgery and dentistry.

The School is nationally and internationally recognised for research in these areas, reflected in the £40 million it attracts annually in research income. Its fundamental mission, with its partner NHS Trusts, and other partner organisations such as CRUK, is to ensure that that the best possible clinical service is underpinned by the very latest developments in scientific and clinical teaching, training and research.



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