Experts Say Racism Causing Mental Health Crisis
Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the Lincoln Memorial and shared his dream that "...my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the producing a public health crisis.
A pair of studies recently published by the American Psychological Association (APA) indicates while stress levels nationally have declined, for African- Americans, racism, either real or perceived, consistently contributes to adverse health outcomes.
In Stress in America: Our Health at Risk, APA's annual survey of the nation's mental health, psychological scientists find a mix of conclusions. On one hand, the nearly 1,300 adults surveyed indicated they have a lower level of stress than the year before (5.2 on a 10-point scale vs. 5.4 in 2010). On the other hand, many Americans continue to report that their stress has actually increased over time--40 percent report their stress has increased over the past year.
Further, this information "... suggests the nation is on the clinicians, consultants and students
in the United States.
The survey suggests that those who have been diagnosed with obesity as well as older adults, over age 50, particularly those who serve as caregivers for a family member are most prone
to higher stress levels.
In examining stress in the nation's capitol and surrounding suburbs, residents surveyed
reported a relatively higher level of satisfaction with their quality of life including with their work, financial security, and relationships with family and friends—72 percent in the D.C. area versus verge of a stress-induced public health crisis," stated the report commissioned by the APA, the largest scientific and professional organization representing 154,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students in the United States.
The survey suggests that those who have been diagnosed with obesity as well as older adults, over age 50, particularly those who serve as caregivers for a family member are most prone to higher stress levels.
While Stress in America surveyed regional and even gender-based contributors to stress, it omitted any reference to racial stress factors. However, in Perceived Racism and Mental Health Among Black American Adults, a report published just weeks earlier in the APA's Journal of Counseling Psychology, it concludes racism, at least the perception thereof, remains a significant contributor to depression and even hypertension.
"[W]e systematically reviewed 66 studies (total sample size of 18,140 across studies), published between January 1996 and April 2011, on the associations between racism and mental health among Black Americans. Using a random-effects model, we found a positive association between perceived racism and psychological distress," noted the team of social scientists authoring the study led by Dr. Alex L. Pieterse, Ph.D.
Dr. Pieterse, an assistant psychology rrofessor at the State University of New York, Albany, believes that his team's report, which surveyed a sample size over 15 times that of the national APA study, offers sound evidence that the nation in which Dr. King dreamed his children would live is not the USA of today.
"In a word I would say that Dr. King's dream has not been realized. In fact if you look at various social indicators such as health, income, education, levels of incarceration etc, it is a fact that Black Americans and other people of color in proportion continue to experience much less favorable outcomes than that of their White counterparts," reflected Dr. Pieterse.
And what about the fact that a pair of African-Americans, around the age of Dr. King's children, occupy the White House as its main tenants, rather than as servants?
Dr. Pieterse states "[T]he fact that we have a Black president, has little to do with the ongoing sense of marginalization experienced by many Black Americans and other people of color.
In that regard using the election of Barack Obama as evidence of true racial justice is unfortunately using a very misleading metric."
In Dr. Pieterse's opinion, "Racism continues to have a ubiquitous presence in American life and as such Black Americans and other people of color continue to experience stress associated with racism. The scientific literature has increasingly documented that racism-related stress is associated with a range of adverse health outcomes -- both physical and mental."