UCLA Study Identifies Risk Factors for Mental Disorders Among African Americans

uclaResearch conducted at the Center for Culture, Trauma, and Mental Health Disparities at the University of California, Los Angeles, identifies factors that can predict depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder among African Americans.

Researchers interviewed 500 low-income African Americans and Hispanics on their life experiences and screened them for depression and other mental health disorders. The study found a direct correlation between mental health disorders and high level exposure to five factors:

  • Experiences of discrimination due to racial, ethnic, gender or sexual orientation
  • A history of sexual abuse
  • A history of violence in the family or from an intimate partner
  • A history of violence in  an individuals’ community
  • A chronic fear of being killed or seriously injured

Hector Myers, who was at UCLA but is now a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University and is the lead author of the study, said that “the costs to society of these life experiences are substantial. We know there is a poorer overall quality of life, a loss of productivity, greater social dependency, disability, health and mental health care costs, and early mortality as a result of repeated experiences of stress and trauma.”

wyattGail Wyatt, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and a co-author of the research, added that “unfortunately, much of the psychological distress stemming from chronic life stress and trauma remains undetected and untreated. Only a small proportion of individuals with psychological distress are identified in health care settings, and a smaller fraction of those ever receive appropriate treatment, especially for the experiences of discrimination. We talk about being discriminated against, but people don’t learn how to cope with it effectively throughout their lives. If they don’t manage it well enough, the consequences can be long-lasting and life-threatening.”

The article, “Cumulative Burden of Lifetime Adversities: Trauma and Mental Health in Low-SES African Americans and Latino/as,” was published in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. It may be accessed here.


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