Suicidal Behavior Among Urban, African American Young Adults


  • Support for this project was provided by NIMH grants P50 MH38725, RO1 MH42968, & T32 MH 18834. The authors would like to thank the Baltimore Public City School System and the young adults who participated in the study. We would also to thank Virginia Lindahl and Eve Moscicki for their helpful comments during the preparation of the manuscript.

    The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the National Institute of Mental Health, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Department of Mental Hygiene, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, 624 North Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21205. E-mail:


The objectives of the present study were four-fold. First, to determine the lifetime, last year, and 6-month prevalence and demographic correlates of suicidal behavior in a defined population of urban, African American young adults. Second, to determine the degree of mental health service utilization among attempters. Third, to study the comorbidity between mental disorders and suicidal behavior, along with the variation in the numbers and types of psychiatric disorders associated with attempts versus ideation only. Fourth, to examine gender differences in the psychiatric diagnoses associated with attempts and ideation. Data relevant to each of these objectives were gathered through structured interviews of 1,157 economically disadvantaged, African American young adults. Lifetime, last year, and 6-month prevalence rates for attempts were 5.3%, 1.2%, and 0.4%, respectively, whereas the lifetime and 6-month prevalence of ideation were 14% and 1.9%, respectively. Approximately two thirds of those who reported lifetime ideation, and a similar proportion of those who reported lifetime attempts, had a history of at least one lifetime psychiatric disorder. There were no gender differences in terms of the degree of risk for suicidal behavior (ideation or attempts) associated with any of the comorbid psychiatric diagnoses assessed. Despite the severity of most attempts, few attempters received mental health services in their lifetime or at the time of their most recent attempt.