Racism Causes Mental Health Disparities in African Americans

Published Thursday, March 29, 2012
by Jimmie Davis, Jr.

Does America really need a clinical study to substantiate the fact that racism causes mental health disparities in Black men, women and children? Finding the answer for this question isn’t difficult. Just drive through any impoverished Black community and ask the residents are they stressed out because crime and drugs are rampant in their community, are they sick and can’t afford to go to the doctor, are they unemployed and living beneath the poverty level, and they will unequivocally tell you yes, and it’s because society discriminates against Black folks.

But the social order doesn’t operate in this sphere of influence. In fact, clinical trials are the only way to get white America to believe that racism causes trauma in the lives of African Americans.

The latest research in which lead author Dr. Alex L. Pieterse, assistant professor of counseling from University at Albany State University of New York and published in American Psychological Association Journal of Counseling Psychology does an excellent job at convincing mainstream society that racism causes stress in Black people.

“It is now clear that there is a strong association between experiences of racism and psychological distress for Black Americans,” said Pieterse. “The idea that racism is a type of stressor for Black Americans is also widely acknowledged in the social sciences.”

His research looked at 66 studies that included 18,140 Black adult participants. Pieterse only used studies that were published between January 1996 and April 2010 on the associations between racism and mental health among African Americans.

The findings suggest that the mental health of Black Americans is negatively impacted by exposure to racism, which causes harm to a person’s health.

“Racism negatively affects mental health,” said Dr. Anita Thomas, associate professor of counseling psychology at Loyola University. “Research suggests that experiences of racism, both those experienced and experiences witnessed by others, lead to depression, anxiety, paranoia, anger and difficulties in interpersonal relationships.”

Additionally, the Surgeon General’s [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011] report on race, ethnicity and culture in mental health have identified racism and racial discrimination as major contributing factors in the more negative health outcomes experiences by Black Americans.

“We found a positive association between perceived racism and psychological distress,” stated in Pieterse’s report entitled “Perceived Racism and Mental Health among Black American adults: A Meta-Analytic Review.” “We found a moderation effect for psychological outcomes, with anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric symptoms.”

Countless amounts of Black people are suffering from flash-backs, avoid certain situations or experiences and have anxiety attacks because they have en-countered a racial incident, which might be symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD].

Thomas says many African Americans will undoubtedly experience PTSD symptoms but will excuse them away because of the pervasiveness of racism, particularly more modern forms of racism that are subtle.

She even has anxieties a-bout speaking at certain events, because people like to tell her how articulate she is.

“I’ve noticed that I will quickly exit speaking engagements to avoid people’s comments that are intended to be compliments but are really racist statements,” Thomas said. “My anxiety about speaking at some venues is greater because I worry about how I will be perceived, whether I will face comments that are racist, and if I will be able to leave early. Many of these concerns mimic PTSD.”

Scores of doctors aren’t aware that racism causes mental health disparities in Black people; therefore, Pieterse strongly suggests that physicians make this assessment as part of their repertoire when diagnosing their patients.


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