All college students experience stress.
Not all, however, attempt suicide or have ideas of doing so.
For African-American college students, the novelty of university life, moving away from friends and family, academic requirements, and general social pressure may create a sense of stress that requires especially adaptive coping skills.
In the existing research on suicide, many factors have been cited as predictive and contributory. For young adults, maladaptive coping strategies, including internalizing behaviors, can lead to depression and lack of will to live, which serve to exacerbate suicide risk. Suicide is quickly becoming one of the top three causes of premature death among young African-American adults. Therefore, it is imperative that the factors that increase vulnerability to and protect from suicide be thoroughly researched.
In an attempt to better understand how coping relates to suicide risk among African-American young adults, Mei-Chuan Wang of the Department of Psychology at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina recently conducted a survey on a sample of 361 African-American college students, one-third of whom reported having attempted or thought about suicide in the past. The students were asked to report how they coped with everyday stressors and overall life stress.
The results indicated that emotion-oriented and avoidance coping were the two most common methods of dealing with stress. The students who used emotion coping as an attempt to deal with negative emotions resulting from stress were at greater risk of suicidal ideation than those who used avoidance coping. Wang believes the fact suicide rates are increasing among African-American youth could be explained in part by the high rates of emotion-oriented coping in this segment of the population.
Wang notes that avoidance coping, which is used less frequently by African-American individuals, can shift attention away from negative feelings and perhaps direct focus to more positive things, protecting the individual from feelings of hopelessness and despair.
On college campuses, students are exposed to myriad activities and a constantly changing environment, which can increase avoidance tactics and bolster the protective nature of avoidance coping. “Furthermore, students can often observe their peers and gain different perspectives and potential solutions to their problems,” Wang said.
The findings presented here illuminate a unique relationship between coping and suicide risk among African-American youth, but further work needs to be done to gain a more comprehensive picture of all the risk factors and protective mechanisms related to suicidal behavior.