Suicide and Spiritual Resistance Among Black People in the U.S.
Suicide is an escalating public health crisis for Black people in the United States, yet the majority of the suicide research in the United States is based on the European American population. The psychological impact of the centuries of persistent stress and pain Black Americans have endured in the U.S., fueled by racism since the tragic period of slavery, is well-documented. However, despite the unrelenting historical and contemporary manifestations of racism and other systems of oppression in U.S. society, Black Americans have chosen death by suicide at rates lower than White Americans. Previous research has established the complexity of suicide and revealed that there are multiple personal and societal stress factors that contribute to creating risk factors for Black suicide. Research has also established that Black Americans historically have cultivated a resistance to the desire to take their own lives, seemingly linked to religious/spiritual and cultural coping resources that have served as a protective factor against suicidal behavior. Yet, there is a lack of scholarship that explores the impact of these resources on suicide in this population. Suicidologists are calling for suicide to be examined within a multidimensional contextual framework and for there to be a shift from a deficit approach to a strengths-based approach. There is a need for greater research focus on the factors that influence suicidal behavior in Black Americans, as well as the factors that are associated with creating a shield of protection against this self-destructive behavior. Through a convergent mixed-method approach, and guided by a robust cluster of theories, with Critical Race Theory and the Afrocentric Worldview as the overarching theoretical and philosophical approaches, this dissertation aims to address the gaps in the literature by examining several research questions. The following questions are examined through quantitative research: (1) Do racial discrimination and personal stress influence suicide attempts among Black people in the U.S., and does religion/spirituality serve as a protective factor and moderate the relationship between attempted suicide and racial discrimination and personal stress?; (2) Do post-incarceration status and personal stress influence suicide attempts among Black people in the U.S., and does religion/spirituality serve as a protective factor and moderate the relationship between attempted suicide and post-incarceration and personal stress?; (3) Do veteran status and personal stress influence suicide attempts among Black people in the U.S., and does religion/spirituality serve as a protective factor and moderate the relationship between attempted suicide and veteran status and personal stress? The data for this study were drawn from the cross-sectional National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) III which covers April 2012-June 2013. Logistic regression was employed to analyze the data. The quantitative research explores the impact of personal and societal stressors on the mental health of Black people and the role of religion/spirituality in cultivating a healthy emotional and mental environment that insulates them from suicide. The qualitative data include interviews with three adult Black men from the researcher’s family across three generations. Through three generations of Black men from one family, this dissertation further aims to examine whether religion/spirituality is a protective factor insulating Black people in the U.S. from developing suicidal behavior as they navigate societal stress factors including racial discrimination, post-incarceration status, and veteran status and whether religion/spirituality as a protective factor is passed down intergenerationally. If so, it aims to explore whether there are any intergenerational patterns and/or differences in the utilization of religion/spirituality as a source of protection against developing suicidal behavior. Assessed together, the findings from the quantitative and the qualitative research underscore the potential impact of stress and societal stress factors on suicidal behavior among Black people. Specifically, the quantitative research shows an association between personal stress and societal stress factors including racial discrimination, post-incarceration status, veteran status, and suicide attempts. The quantitative research also underscores the complexity of the role of religion/spirituality as a protective factor, as the findings from the quantitative research show that religion/spirituality was not a buffer against suicide attempts for the participants in that study. The findings from the qualitative research reveal that religion/spirituality can serve as a buffer and illustrates religion/spirituality functioning as an extension of Afrocentric culture and serving as a protective shield enabling some Black people to resist the full psychological impact of personal and societal stressors. This dissertation provides the foundation for the broader work highlighted through this study encapsulated in the Ubuntu Relational Framework for the Study of Black Suicide, an Afrocentric framework I developed that emerged as a guide for exploring the risks and protective factors of Black suicide. The constructs of death consciousness and Divine consciousness emerged during the analysis of the qualitative research as a way of conceptualizing the influence of societal stressors and protective factors on suicidal behavior, and they are an expression of Afrocentric culture. This framework highlights the need to equally prioritize the concern of what animates Black people’s desire to live, which was illuminated through the qualitative research, along with the question of what factors make them at risk for cultivating a desire to die. It further attends to the need for social workers to address the conditions of the racist U.S. environment these factors are assessed within. This dissertation also includes my autoethnography which serves as an analytic review and critical analysis of key concepts related to the study of Black suicide. It is a resource for further grounding in the historical and contemporary context of the Black experience and the Afrocentric worldview incorporated in this work. Autoethnography is an epistemological site for exploring Divine consciousness and the role of religion/spirituality and culture passed down intergenerationally as a protective factor against suicidal behavior. It further outlines a methodology for employing spiritual and cultural resources and operationalizing spiritual resistance. Finally, this dissertation goes beyond identifying risk and protective factors for suicidal behavior in Black people. It outlines a structure for training social work clinicians and researchers in this Afrocentric framework that would expand social workers’ knowledge of African-centered social work, and a method appropriate for responding to this multidimensional mental health problem that requires a creative, culturally rich approach. The training includes a methodology for employing religious/spiritual and cultural resources that operationalizes spiritual resistance that will equip social workers for supporting Black people in developing a healthy holistic mental and social environment within an oppressive racist environment.