The Association Between Discrimination and PTSD in African Americans

Exploring the Role of Gender

Published in: Ethnicity and Health [Epub February 2018]. doi:10.1080/13557858.2018.144415

Posted on RAND.org on April 12, 2018

by Stephanie Brooks Holliday, Tamara Dubowitz, Ann C. Haas, Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar, Amy Soo Jin DeSantis, Wendy M. Troxel

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Background

Research has demonstrated the adverse impact that discrimination has on physical and mental health. However, few studies have examined the association between discrimination and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There is evidence that African Americans experience higher rates of PTSD and are more likely to develop PTSD following trauma exposure than Whites, and discrimination may be one reason for this disparity.

Purpose

To examine the association between discrimination and PTSD among a cross-sectional sample largely comprising African American women, controlling for other psychosocial stressors (psychological distress, neighborhood safety, crime).

Methods

A sample of 806 participants was recruited from two low-income predominantly African American neighborhoods. Participants completed self-report measures of PTSD symptoms, perceived discrimination, perceived safety, and psychological distress. Information on neighborhood crime was obtained through data requested from the city. Multivariate linear regression models were estimated to assess adjusted relationships between PTSD symptoms and discrimination.

Results

Discrimination was significantly associated with PTSD symptoms with a small effect size, controlling for relevant sociodemographic variables. This association remained consistent after controlling for psychological distress, perceived safety, and total neighborhood crime. There was no evidence of a gender by discrimination interaction. Participants who experienced any discrimination were significantly more likely to screen positive for PTSD.

Conclusions

Discrimination may contribute to the disparate rates of PTSD experienced by African Americans. PTSD is associated with a range of negative consequences, including poorer physical health, mental health, and quality of life. These results suggest the importance of finding ways to promote resilience in this at-risk population.

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