Racial Disparities in Mental Health Outcomes: Possible Explanations for Unexpected Advantages among African-American Adolescents

Cynthia G. Colen, Ohio State University
Bethany Boettner, Ohio State University

Racial disparities in health exact a heavy toll on the wellbeing of African-Americans and American society as a whole. While Black men and women experience accelerated mortality schedules and greater physical disease burden throughout the lifecourse, their mental wellbeing does not appear to follow similarly disadvantageous trajectories. Population-based estimates of anxiety and depression, which are independent of clinician diagnosis, reveal similar prevalences among Blacks and Whites. Rates of suicide have remained particularly low among African-Americans, even during periods of sustained economic stagnation, limited employment opportunities, and elevated risks of incarceration. The overarching aim of this study is to investigate the unexpected racial patterning of mental health among Blacks and Whites in the United States, with a particular focus on adolescents. Specifically, I estimate the extent to which the demographic (i.e. racial and socioeconomic) characteristics of an individual’s friendship network influence the likelihood of developing suboptimal mental health outcomes.

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Presented in Session 42: Adolescents, Young Adults, and Mental Health