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Mental Health Risks Vary Within the U.S. Black Population

The longer Black Caribbean immigrants stay in the U.S., the poorer their mental health becomes.// That’s one finding from a new study that examined the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among Black individuals in the U.S. The study appears in the January 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

David R. Williams, lead author and professor in the Department of Society, Human Development and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, and his colleagues examined data from the National Study of American Life, the largest study of mental health among Blacks in the U.S., to look at mental disorders among Black Caribbean immigrants and how they compared with disorders among African Americans.

Six percent of the U.S. Black population is foreign-born and 10 percent is of foreign ancestry. Of all Black immigrants, Black Caribbeans are the largest subgroup, making up 4.4. percent of the U.S. Black population. Prior research has shown that Black Caribbean immigrants differ from African Americans in various measures of physical health, but little research as been done on differences in mental health.

The researchers found that Black men of Caribbean ancestry had higher current rates of mood and anxiety disorders than African American men. Women of Caribbean ancestry, however, had lower current and lifetime rates than African American women. Another finding was that third-generation Black Caribbean immigrant men and women had the highest rates of disorders among all the subgroups in the study.

“What we found was that ethnicity matters a lot in the Black population in the U.S. for mental health risk,” said Williams. He believes clinicians need to look beyond crude categories of race in order to learn more about the backgrounds of their clients in order to better treat them.

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