How Racism-Related Stress Impacts the Health of African Americans

What is the toll of racial discrimination on the mental and physical health of young African Americans? In this episode of Michigan Minds, Enrique W. Neblett, Jr., PhD, professor of health behavior and health education at the U-M School of Public Health and associate director of the Detroit Academic-Community Urban Research Center, discusses the negative impact of racism on health.

“In our work, we’ve looked at the links between the frequency with which youth experience discrimination and how that affects things like depressive symptoms and anxiety, and how stressed the youth feel,” Neblett says.

Neblett is a trained clinical psychologist, but says he is also interested in understanding how racism-related stress impacts physical health as well.

“We’ve pretty much been able to detail that there’s a connection, and it’s a bad one, and so I’ve been interested in understanding what types of things can disrupt the link between racism experiences and health in young people,” he says.

Neblett explains that racism doesn’t only operate at a person-to-person level, but at an institutional level and cultural level as well.

“As you think about institutional racism, there is a lot of discussion right now around the police and the justice system, and the impacts on people’s access to employment and education and opportunities,” he says, adding there are implications for people’s access to quality health care and other necessities. “So another way in which racism and racial discrimination experiences can influence health is through an impact on what people have access to.”

COVID-19 has also exposed racial disparities and environmental racism, since the pandemic has disproportionately affected African Americans. Neblett describes how the stress and burdens that African Americans experience are heightened by the disease.

He adds that many black youth receive mental health services in their schools, but with those schools closing because of the pandemic, many students lost that access to help.

Neblett ends this episode with a message of hope: “Black people and African American people in this country have endured hundreds of years of mistreatment and negative societal policies, but still manage to be resilient and strong. And so I am hopeful that even as we head into this new chapter in which COVID-19 has reinforced some of the structural racism and exacerbated health disparities, that we will find new ways to address the root cause.”

Learn more in this episode of the Michigan Minds podcast.

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