Background: The rate of violent crime has been decreasing since the early 1990s; however, the rate of deaths resulting from legal intervention at its highest point since the civil rights era. A recent study published in The Lancet showed that these events accounted for a cumulative 55 million poor mental health days for Black Americans. Other aspects of police interaction may also be affecting adverse mental health outcomes for communities. To examine whether experiencing lifetime arrest and marijuana-related arrest is associated with past-year suicide ideation, and assess race differences between Black and White people.
Methods: A literature review was conducted analyzing the findings of other studies on the impact that Stop and Frisk policies, exposure to police killings, and other aspects of police practices have had on the mental health of Black American's. We also used data from Wave-IV (2008-2009; N=5,114) of the non-restricted publicly available National Adolescent Health Study (Add Health) data. Add Health is a longitudinal survey of a nationally representative sample of adolescents in the U.S., which aimed to investigate American adolescents' health trajectories into their adulthood. A total of 4,313 participants were selected from the study, self-identified as White Non-Hispanic and Black or African American Non-Hispanic. Logistic regression was used to assess whether lifetime arrest and marijuana-related arrests were associated with past-year suicide. We stratified by race, and controls of income, education, lifetime depression, gender, and health insurance status were included in all models.
Results: Overall, 28.8% of the sample reported lifetime any arrest, 6.3% reported lifetime suicide ideation, and 3.7% reported marijuana-related arrest. A significantly higher percentage of Black people (32.3%) in comparison to White people (27.4%) reported lifetime arrest (χ2=9.91; p<.001). Among Black participants, Lifetime arrest (AOR=2.98; 95% CI, 1.66-5.35; p<.001) and marijuana-related arrest were both associated with lifetime suicide ideation (AOR=4.09; 95% CI, 1.47-11.35; p<.001), but no significant association was found among White participants.
Conclusions and Implications: Rates of suicide among Black people have been rising for two decades. Further efforts to educate and inform key stakeholders, including law enforcement, policymakers regarding racial disparities and arrests are necessary. Theoretical approaches may involve interventions at the police department level, such as increasing implicit bias training implementation or increased use of LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversions) programs to address issues like drug use through treatment programs instead of criminal court. Community organization initiatives such as citizen oversight committees have also shown to reduce disparities in police arrest practices which may reduce the adverse impacts on mental health in these communities.