Incarceration creates more mental health concerns for African-American men

April 19, 2017 by Laurel Thomas Gnagey, University of Michigan
Credit: University of Michigan

African-American men who have spent time behind bars show worse mental health conditions compared with men of the same race with no history of incarceration, according to a new U-M study.

Researchers from U-M, Rutgers University and Texas A&M University found an association between African-American men with a history of incarceration and , with mental being defined as psychological distress and depressive symptoms.

Compared to other African-American men, those who have been incarcerated have 14 percent, 13 percent and 16 percent higher severity of depression, distress and discrimination, respectively.

"We found that discrimination explains why African-American men with incarceration history are more depressed and more distressed," said lead author Shervin Assari.

Assari is a research investigator at the U-M School of Public Health and Department of Psychiatry, as well as an affiliate faculty with the U-M School of Public Health Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture and Health. The study also is authored by U-M investigators Linda Chatters, Robert Taylor and Reuben Miller.

Assari and team analyzed data from the National Survey of American Life, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research from 2001 to 2003. The NSAL is a representative survey of African-Americans, non-Hispanic whites and black Caribbeans.

"While most other national studies draw blacks from predominantly white areas, the NSAL has mostly enrolled blacks in the geographic places that they actually live," Assari said. "So, the results are more accurate and valid than other sister studies."

Assari noted that this survey also is distinctive because it only looked at African-American males.

"Demographic groups should not be lumped together, as life experiences and contextual factors are unique among them. In the U.S., life experiences are not only shaped by race or gender, but also their intersections," Assari said.

"Risk factors and health problems, and mechanisms that operate for African-American men differ from those that operate in African-American women. No other demographic group experiences incarceration as much as African-American men."

Out of all African-American male participants in the NSAL, nearly 27 percent reported a lifetime history of incarceration.

The researchers acknowledge both public policy and service provider implications of their research. The U.S. is a global leader in incarceration rates, and according to the researchers, policymakers have become increasingly aware that this is detrimental to the country.

"The message to the policymakers is that psychological costs of do not end at when the individual is released," Assari said. "The individual is stigmatized and experiences more discrimination, which will take its toll on the individual as well as society. There is also a message to social workers and those who work with African-American men. Incarceration history is a major risk factor for their mental health, and those with such need extra help."

The research is published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.

Explore further: Discrimination impacts psychological distress for Arab-American men

More information: Shervin Assari et al. Discrimination Fully Mediates the Effects of Incarceration History on Depressive Symptoms and Psychological Distress Among African American Men, Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s40615-017-0364-y

Related Stories

Discrimination impacts psychological distress for Arab-American men

February 21, 2017
Acts of discrimination against Arab-Americans are associated with psychological stress, with an impact 4-5 times larger for men than women, a University of Michigan researcher has found.

Ethnicity impacts perceptions of mental health among black communities

October 8, 2015
When it comes to self-reported mental health among black Americans, ethnicity may play a role in how individuals perceive their status, say researchers at the University of Michigan.

Link between depression, hopelessness stronger for whites than blacks

May 9, 2016
At a time when a number of mental health organizations are sounding the alarm about the high incidence of suicide among middle-aged white males, new University of Michigan research finds that a sense of hopelessness—often ...

Researchers examine how drug policy impacts HIV vulnerability among African-Americans

November 17, 2016
Although HIV rates are higher among the African American community compared to the White population, research shows that engagement in risky behaviors does not fully account for these differences.

Study examines factors of inmate relationships during incarceration and STI/HIV prevention

April 10, 2017
HIV incidence among African-American men is nearly eight times that of white men, and twice that of Latino men. Incarceration, which disproportionately affects African-American men, is thought to be a factor in this wide ...

Recommended for you

Psychiatric disorders share an underlying genetic basis

June 21, 2018
Psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often run in families. In a new international collaboration, researchers explored the genetic connections between these and other disorders of the brain at ...

One year of school comes with an IQ bump, meta-analysis shows

June 21, 2018
A year of schooling leaves students with new knowledge, and it also equates with a small but noticeable increase to students' IQ, according to a systematic meta-analysis published in Psychological Science, a journal of the ...

Ketamine acts fast to treat depression and its effects last—but how?

June 21, 2018
In contrast to most antidepressant medications, which can take several weeks to reduce depressive symptoms, ketamine—a commonly used veterinary anesthetic—can lift a person out of a deep depression within minutes of its ...

New study debunks Dale Carnegie advice to 'put yourself in their shoes'

June 21, 2018
Putting yourself in someone else's shoes and relying on intuition or "gut instinct" isn't an accurate way to determine what they're thinking or feeling," say researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), the ...

Mindful movement may help lower stress, anxiety

June 21, 2018
Taking a walk may be a good opportunity to mentally review your to-do list, but using the time to instead be more mindful of your breathing and surroundings may help boost your wellbeing, according to researchers.

Brain tingles—first study of its kind reveals physiological benefits of ASMR

June 21, 2018
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) – the relaxing 'brain tingles' experienced by some people in response to specific triggers, such as whispering, tapping and slow hand movements – may have benefits for both ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.