Perceived Racism May Impact the Mental Health of Black Americans
A new study led by UAlbany Assistant Professor Alex Pieterse found that for black Americans, perceived racism may cause mental health symptoms similar to trauma and could lead to physical health disparities between blacks and other populations in the U.S.
ALBANY, N.Y (December 12, 2011) -- For black Americans, perceived racism may cause mental health symptoms similar to trauma and could lead to physical health disparities between blacks and other populations in the United States, according to a new study led by University at Albany Assistant Professor Alex Pieterse. While previous studies have found links between racism and mental health, this is the first meta-analysis focusing exclusively on black American adults, according to the study published online in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Counseling Psychology.
"The study focused on black American adults because this is a population that has reported, on average, more incidents of racism than other racial minority groups," said Pieterse, of the School of Education's Division of Counseling Psychology. "Additionally, studies have indicated links between perceived racism and mental and physical health."
Researchers examined 66 studies comprising 18,140 black adults in the United States. To be included in the analysis, a study must have been published in a peer-reviewed journal or dissertation between 1996 and 2011; include a specific analysis of mental health indicators associated with racism; and focus specifically on black American adults in the United States.
Black Americans' psychological responses to racism are very similar to common responses to trauma, such as somatization, which is psychological distress expressed as physical pain; interpersonal sensitivity; and anxiety, according to the study. Individuals who said they experienced very stressful racism were more likely to report mental distress, the authors said.
UAlbany School of Education Assistant Prof. Alex Pieterse
While the researchers did not collect data on the impacts on physical health, they cite other studies that indicate perceived racism may also affect black Americans’ physical health.
"The relationship between perceived racism and self-reported depression and anxiety is quite robust, providing a reminder that experiences of racism may play an important role in the health disparities phenomenon," said Pieterse, who also serves as an associate with UAlbany's Center for the Elimination of Minority Health Disparities. "For example, African-Americans have higher rates of hypertension, a serious condition that has been associated with stress and depression."
The authors recommended that therapists assess racism experiences as part of standard procedure when treating black Americans, and that future studies focus on how discrimination is perceived in specific settings, such as work, online or in school.
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