Background: Suicide and suicide attempts are important public health concerns, and recent decades have witnessed a rising rate of suicide among African Americans. A history of prior attempts is a leading risk factor for completed suicide. Further research is needed into the social environment risk factors for suicide attempt among African Americans. This study focused on two important dimensions of the social environment, family relationships and social support, as well as an important person-level risk factor--depressive symptoms.
Method: Data were obtained from a case-control study of 200 African American men and women aged 18-64 years, who sought services at a large, urban, public hospital. Odds ratios adjusted for significant sociodemographic differences between groups (aORs) were calculated for environment risk factors for suicide attempt among the cases and controls. The role of depressive symptoms was also studied.
Results: Lower levels of family adaptability and family cohesion increased the relative rate of suicide attempt in the sample. The aOR associated with the lowest quartile of family adaptability was 3.90, and the aORs associated with the first and second quartiles of family cohesion were 8.91 and 5.51, respectively. Lower levels of social embeddedness and social support increased the relative rate of suicide attempt in our sample. The aOR associated with the first and second quartiles of social embeddedness were 5.67 and 4.93, respectively, and the aOR associated with the lowest quartile of social support was 6.29. A mediating role of depression was discovered when depressive symptoms were entered into the logistic regression models.
Conclusions: Our findings indicate that social environment factors including deficits in family functioning and social support are associated strongly with suicide attempts among low-income African American men and women seeking treatment in a large, urban hospital. Thus, better family functioning and social supports can be considered protective factors in this population. The presence of depressive symptoms, a well-known risk factor for suicide attempts and suicide, appears to mediate the association between social environment factors and suicide attempt.