Incarceration creates more mental health concerns for African-American men

April 19, 2017 by Laurel Thomas Gnagey
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

Researchers find common psychological traits in group of Italians aged 90 to 101

December 12, 2017
In remote Italian villages nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains lives a group of several hundred citizens over the age of 90. Researchers at the University of Rome La Sapienza and University of California San ...

New therapy can help schizophrenia sufferers re-engage socially

December 11, 2017
A new therapy aimed at helping young people suffering from schizophrenia to reconnect and engage with the world around them has had promising results, according to a new University of Sussex-led study.

Certain books can increase infant learning during shared reading, study shows

December 11, 2017
Parents and pediatricians know that reading to infants is a good thing, but new research shows reading books that clearly name and label people and objects is even better.

Twitter can reveal our shared mood

December 11, 2017
In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of Bristol have analysed mood indicators in text from 800 million anonymous messages posted on Twitter. These tweets were found to reflect strong patterns ...

Many different types of anxiety and depression exist, new study finds

December 8, 2017
Five new categories of mental illness that cut across the current more broad diagnoses of anxiety and depression have been identified by researchers in a Stanford-led study.

Study sheds light on the voices in our head

December 8, 2017
New research showing that talking to ourselves in our heads may be the same as speaking our thoughts out loud could help explain why people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia hear voices.

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.