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Racism's Mental Toll May Explain Some Health Disparities

FRIDAY, Nov. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Racism is similar to trauma in how it affects the mental health of black adults in the United States, a new analysis finds.

An examination of 66 previous studies that included more than 18,000 black adults concluded that there are common responses to both racism and trauma, including somatization (psychological distress that is expressed as physical pain), interpersonal sensitivity and anxiety. The more stressful the racism, the more likely a person was to report mental distress.

The study is published online in the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

The researchers suggested that the link between mental health and racism could contribute to physical health disparities between blacks and other Americans of different races and ethnicities.

"The relationship between perceived racism and self-reported depression and anxiety is quite robust, providing a reminder that experiences of racism may play an important role in the health disparities phenomenon," study lead author Alex Pieterse from the University at Albany, State University of New York, said in an American Psychological Association news release. "For example, African Americans have higher rates of hypertension [high blood pressure], a serious condition that has been associated with stress and depression."

The study's authors noted that therapists should routinely assess their black patients' experiences with racism during treatment.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on health disparities related to race and ethnicity.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, Nov. 16, 2011

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