Depression Mental Health Mind & Body

Jail Creates Mental Health Woes for Black Men

African-American men who have been incarcerated show worse mental health issues compared with men of the same race with no history of jail time, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Michigan, Rutgers University and Texas A&M found an association between African-American men with a history of incarceration and adverse mental health issues. For the purposes of the study, published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, those issues were defined as psychological distress and depressive symptoms.
Compared to other African-American men, those who have been imprisoned 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, a research investigator at the U-M School of Public Health.
The research team analyzed data from the National Survey of American Life, a representative survey of African Americans, non-Hispanic whites and black Caribbeans, conducted from 2001 to 2003.
“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.”
This survey also has one other notable distinction: It looked only at African-American men.
“Demographic groups should not be lumped together, as life experiences and contextual factors are unique among them,” Assari said. “In the U.S., life experiences are not only shaped by race or gender, but also their intersections. 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, about 27 percent reported a lifetime history of incarceration.
The researchers acknowledge both public policy and service provider implications of their research. The United States is a global leader in incarceration rates, something policymakers have become increasingly aware is detrimental to the country.
“The message to the policymakers is that psychological costs of incarceration do not end 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 history need extra help.”

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