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Book Review

Suicide Among Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups: Theory, Research, and Practice

Alex Kopelowicz, MD

Published: September 15, 2009

Suicide Among Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups: Theory, Research, and Practice

edited by Frederick T. L. Leong, PhD, and Mark M. Leach, PhD. In book series: Series in Death, Dying, and Bereavement. Routledge, New York, NY, 2008, 334 pages, $40.00.

Suicide is a major public health problem in the United States, with an estimated 30,000 deaths each year. Most of what is known about suicidal behaviors is derived from studies of European Americans. The fact that ethnic minority groups are the fastest growing segments of the US population, and the increasing recognition that the problem of suicidal behaviors extends to these groups, led the editors of Suicide Among Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups: Theory, Research, and Practice to address the question of how the complex nature and manifestation of culture, race, and ethnicity influence suicide among the various cultural groups in the United States.

To accomplish this task, the editors have assembled a group of 2 dozen authors to produce 13 chapters divided into 3 sections. The first section focuses on the theoretical basis for the inclusion of multicultural issues in the understanding of suicide. The second section includes chapters that address 5 specific ethnic groups (African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders in the United States, and Native Americans) by relating each group to suicide research, highlighting specific variables within the group that can influence suicide, and presenting appropriate treatment considerations. The third section has separate chapters on prevention, testing and assessment, intervention/treatment, training, and research.

Most of the chapter authors acknowledge that there is a paucity of research on their topic of interest. Undaunted by this challenge, a recurring theme struck by the chapter authors is that the book is a first attempt to compile and integrate this limited knowledge base. Although the book’s editors state that their goal is to provide "guidance to clinicians, educators, and researchers who are faced with the challenge of understanding, preventing, and intervening to reduce suicide among racial and ethnic minority groups in this country" (p. 2), they recognize that the field has only recently begun to include ethnic minorities in suicide research and, thus, could fall into the trap of promulgating cultural stereotypes. It was gratifying to see that several chapters (eg, Native Americans) provided a thoughtful conceptual framework, solid epidemiologic data, instructive clinical examples, and a description of empirically-supported intervention strategies to be truly helpful to the working clinician as well as to the interested researcher.

Clearly, a major strength of this book is its emphasis on a multidimensional study of suicide that incorporates psychological, cognitive, and sociocultural factors. Moreover, by looking outside the limited cross-cultural studies done within suicidal populations, the contributors expanded the available empirical literature base to provide a deeper look into how culture can act as an important catalyst in suicidal intentions. However, readers of the Journal may be surprised and even disappointed by the lack of attention given to the biologic domain. Obviously, the past 20 years have witnessed an explosion of inquiry into the biologic factors involved in depression and suicide. Consequently, the lack of attention to this important topic throughout the majority of this book is striking because it represents a missed opportunity to describe how biology interacts with the psychosociocultural domains in diverse populations. This limitation notwithstanding, the book does serve as a wake-up call to educators, clinicians, and researchers interested in saving lives by promoting diversity-sensitive approaches to assessment, intervention, and treatment of suicidal people.

Alex Kopelowicz, MD

Author affiliation: David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles. Financial disclosure: None reported.


© Copyright 2009 Physicians Postgraduate Press, Inc.

Volume: 70

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