Ready to die: A postmodern interpretation of the increase of African-American adolescent male suicide

Academic Article

Abstract

  • African-Americans have typically registered lower rates of suicide than other ethnic groups. In the last 20 years this pattern has changed, particularly among young African-Americans between the ages of 15 and 19 (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Mortality Statistics, 1998, Atlanta, GA). Today, young African-American males are as likely to commit suicide as their White counterparts. To date, the research conducted regarding this phenomenon has been inconclusive and existing suicide interventions appear to have no effect on reducing this behavior among young African-Americans. This paper synthesizes classical (Durkheim Suicide, 1979 Free Press, New York) and postmodern (Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, 1992, Sage, London; Bauman, Modernity and Ambivalence, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1991) social theories in order to provide a more complete theoretical explanation for the increase in the suicide rate among adolescent African-American males. Postmodern society is typified by: (1) institutional deconstruction; (2) decreased collectivism; (3) increased normlessness and helplessness; and (4) exacerbated personal risk for stress. It is therefore possible to hypothesize that postmodernity characteristically loosens the bonds between the individual and society, thereby increasing vulnerability to depression, related pathologies (such as substance abuse), and suicide. African-Americans tend to be more affected/vulnerable because they are concentrated in resource-poor, low income areas, and institutions that provided social support (family, religious, community) and protected individuals from societal risk factors, have gradually been dissolving in postmodern societies. We argue that young African-American males of today are more exposed to stressors which increase psychological distress thus increasing depression and related pathological behaviors such as suicide. The main reason behind this increase is found in the inability of institutions to offer protection from psychological distress. Overall, this paper presents a postmodern, macro-level framework to explain the increase in suicide among African-American male adolescents. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 24413772
  • Author List

  • Willis LA; Coombs DW; Cockerham WC; Frison SL
  • Start Page

  • 907
  • End Page

  • 920
  • Volume

  • 55
  • Issue

  • 6