African American Health and Wellness

April is National Minority Health Month so I thought it would be a good time to talk about health disparities that African Americans face. A report by the Institute of Medicine found that these health disparities demonstrate a complex problem that includes aspects of bias, discrimination, and stereotyping. They reported, "Mental health care occurs relatively frequently in emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals." African Americans are overrepresented in emergency and inpatient services. What this means is that African Americans disproportionately use these services instead of mental health care clinics and other centers. The National Survey of American life found that 10.1% of African American used some form of mental service within the past year; this includes 31.9% of African Americans who meet DSM-IV criteria (Diagnostic Statistical Manual, which is what psychologists/psychiatrists use to diagnose psychological disorders; this article came out before the new DSM-V). Other studies have highlighted similar disparities. African Americans have a greater mental illness-induced "disease burden" than White Americans, meaning that they experience more disabling forms and experience them for longer times. Of African Americans diagnosed with depression, 57% experience chronic depression. Additionally, African Americans have lower odds of receiving evidence-based treatments. These disparities continue into the studies that assess treatment quality and effectiveness. African Americans are underrepresented in efficacy studies (whether the treatment works in ideal situations).

So, what may be factors in these disparities? First, there are the additional threats to African American wellness aside from those shared by the general population. These threats include:

  1. Stigma associated with being African American
  2. Stress and trauma
  3. Racism and discrimination
  4. Cultural Mistrust
  5. Stereotype Threat

The second issue involves the challenges of understanding African Americans' mental health. Aggressive African American behavior tends to be viewed as more of threat by powerful institutions. Stereotypes about African Americans may lead them to be viewed as psychologically unsophisticated and unlikely to suffer cognitive stress like depression. African American spirituality or cultural mistrust may lead to diagnostic errors by therapists or counselors who lack knowledge of and experience working with African American populations. Social inequity and socioeconomic factors also contribute to health disparities and inferior treatment.

Given that many of these resources are not available for African Americans at adequate levels, I wanted to do my part to at least pass along some of the resources I have come across to help people take better care of themselves. While I do have a Ph.D. in psychology, I am not a licensed therapist so do not take this as legitimate psychological counseling/therapy. I am only summarizing and sharing resources that I have found. During this month (not exactly sure how frequently), I'll post different tips and bits of information regarding health and wellness, both physically and mentally. As you'll hopefully learn, the two often go hand in hand. It may not be radical change, but I do think it is important to get information out to people in whatever ways you can in order for them to begin helping themselves.