African Americans and mental health
Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Roughly 12 percent of the United States population—33.9 million people—identify themselves as African American. The majority of black people in the United States are descendants of African slaves. In the past, African Americans were actively oppressed and discriminated against in the United States, which affected the way in which mental illnesses in members of this group were viewed, diagnosed, and treated.
The first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619 as indentured servants. However, the system of indentured servitude did not last for Africans after the profits to be had from slave trading became apparent. As more Europeans settled in the colonies, the demand for a cheap labor force increased. From the mid-1600’s through the eighteenth century, more than 6 million people were forcibly removed from Africa and sold as slaves. The slave trade was outlawed in the United States in 1808 but continued illegally. Slavery officially ended in 1865; however, Jim Crow laws in the South mandated de jure segregation in public facilities. Through the efforts of the Civil Rights movement, Jim Crow laws were gradually repealed. From 1965 to 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law several bills, including the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, that prohibited discrimination against African Americans in housing, education, employment, and voting.
An awareness of the legacy of discrimination is critical to...
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Historical Overview (Psychology and Mental Health)
Early models of mental health were not sensitive to cultural differences and often stereotyped blacks as being morally and intellectually inferior. Blacks were seen as inherently dysfunctional. Later models saw blacks as culturally deficient, which suggested that acculturation to mainstream white culture would “cure” them. Modern models of mental health embrace the differences model, which promotes acceptance of cultural differences and seeks to incorporate a more culturally sensitive view in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. This model examines how social, cultural, political, and economic factors affect mental illness. This mental health model has ushered in psychology’s fourth force, multiculturalism.
Early examples of the “culturally deficient” model’s influence on mental health diagnoses include the psychological disorder drapetomia. This disorder, which affected only slaves, was defined as “the disease causing Negroes to run away” from their owners. The treatment for this disorder, once it was determined that the disease had progressed to the stage of actually running away as opposed to the mere desire to do so, was more frequent whipping. Further treatment guidelines included keeping slaves in a submissive state and treating them like children.
The study of African Americans’ mental health was often obscured by questionable methodology. For example, in a nineteenth century...
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Contributing Socioeconomic Factors (Psychology and Mental Health)
Various social, political, and economic factors significantly affect what types of mental distress are experienced by African Americans. Although the majority of African Americans are not poor, a significant number fall below the government’s official poverty line. Some 24 percent of African American families live in poverty compared with 13 percent of families in the United States as a whole, and 8 percent of non-Hispanic white Americans. Rates of unemployment are also higher among African Americans than among whites. Higher rates of mental illness are correlated with lower socioeconomic status, higher rates of violence, and lower attention paid to mental health treatment. Blacks have higher rates of divorce, separation, and never-married status when compared with other ethnic groups. Black children are more likely to live in households headed by a woman, which are more likely to be poor or experience continual economic hardship. More than 20 percent of blacks do not have health insurance although most blacks are employed. Black men have higher incarceration rates than any other ethnic group, and African Americans are disproportionately represented among the homeless population (40 percent of the homeless are black). These demographic conditions significantly affect rates of mental illness within the population.
African Americans underutilize mental health services. Only one-third of African Americans...
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Current Rates of Mental Illness (Psychology and Mental Health)
Rates of mental illness among African Americans are similar to those among whites; however, differences exist for specific mental illnesses. For example, African Americans are less likely than other races to suffer from major depression and have lower rates of suicide, except for young black men (ages thirteen to twenty-four), among whom suicide rates are rising. Simple phobias and somatization are more common in blacks (15 percent) than in whites (9 percent). Compared with the general population, African Americans are more likely to be exposed to violence, which affects the rates at which they are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
African American youths have lower rates of tobacco, alcohol, and other illicit drug use than either whites or Hispanics do. However, when African American youths abuse substances, they are more likely to suffer negative social consequences (such as expulsion from school) than members of other ethnic groups.
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Biases and Disparities (Psychology and Mental Health)
When compared with whites who exhibit the same symptoms, African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. Blacks are also more likely than whites to be improperly diagnosed when suffering from affective disorders such as depression.
African Americans have higher rates of diabetes, stroke, obesity, and cardiac disease than other ethnic groups. These medical conditions have been linked to genetic factors as well as the high levels of stress often experienced by this population. African Americans also have a lower life expectancy (73.1 years) when compared with the average American (77.8 years).
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Cross, William E., Jr. Shades of Black: Diversity in African American Identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991. This is a classic text in the field of African American racial identity development. It explores how African Americans develop a positive racial identity against a background of societal oppression and discrimination. It examines social scientific literature on African American identity conducted between 1936 and 1967 and challenges the idea that blacks experienced self-hatred or self-loathing because of their racial group and physical characteristics. Cross also explores his own developmental models of African American racial identity.
Guthrie, Robert V. Even the Rat Was White: A Historical View of Psychology. New York: Harper & Row, 1976. This classic book views the history of psychology from multiple perspectives and examines and challenges the historical accuracy of psychological research and scholarly study. It presents the relatively unknown scientific contributions of early African American psychologists, as well as their problems, views, and concerns in the field of social psychology.
McAdoo, Harriette Pipes. Black Families. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2007. This book examines the strengths of black families, the black family structure, and the multiple issues these families face. Additionally, this text explores demographic...
(The entire section is 386 words.)