The more negative a nickname or slur used to refer to an immigrant group, the more likely members of that group are to commit suicide, according to a study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
The correlation between hate speech and suicide rates remains constant even after taking into account the suicide rate in a group’s country of origin and the group’s size within the United States, say Brian Mullen, Ph.D., and Joshua M. Smyth, Ph.D., of Syracuse University.
It is unclear from the study whether such hate speech is indicative of societal pressures and discrimination that might contribute to higher suicide rates among immigrants or whether the name-calling itself is directly responsible for the increased rates.
Mullen says, however, “There is growing awareness that this type of ethnic discrimination operates as a stressor and can have a variety of deleterious consequences.”
The study looked at ethnic slurs used to describe 10 European immigrant groups during the 1950s. The researchers compared the variety of slurs and their negativity to suicide rates for the groups in their native countries and during their first generation in the United States.
Mullen and Smyth collected information on the English, Germans, Hungarians, Irish, Italians, Norwegians, Polish, Scots, Swedes and Welsh between 1951 and 1960. Two judges reviewed the variety of insulting names given to each group and scored them based on their “negativity.”
For instance, “dumb Polack” was considered quite negative, while “Taffy,” a nickname based on the Welsh “Daffydd or David,” was considered less offensive.
The negativity, rather than the variety of slurs used to describe a group, was a good predictor of immigrant suicide rates, the researchers concluded.
Although immigrant suicide rates were strongly correlated with rates in their countries of origin, the immigrants had higher rates of suicide in the United States than in their home countries.