Racism & Your Health
(BlackDoctor.org) — For African American adults, perceived racism may cause mental health symptoms similar to trauma and could lead to some physical health disparities between blacks and other populations in the United States, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.
Compelling evidence indicate that race and ethnicity correlate with persistent, and often increasing, health disparities among U.S. populations in all these categories and demands national attention. Because racial and ethnic minority groups are expected to comprise an increasingly larger proportion of the U.S. population in coming years, the future health of America will be greatly influenced by our success in improving the health of these groups.
Despite great improvements in the overall health of the nation, Americans who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely than whites to have poor health and to die prematurely. These disparities are believed to be the results of the complex interaction among genetic variations, environmental factors, and specific health behaviors.
An examination of 66 previous studies that included more than 18,000 black adults concluded that there are common responses to both racism and trauma, including somatization (psychological distress that is expressed as physical pain), interpersonal sensitivity and anxiety. The more stressful the racism, the more likely a person was to report mental distress.
The researchers suggested that the link between mental health and racism could contribute to physical health disparities between blacks and other Americans of different races and ethnicities.
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. For example, African Americans have higher rates of hypertension [high blood pressure], a serious condition that has been associated with stress and depression.
The study’s authors noted that therapists should routinely assess their black patients’ experiences with racism during treatment.