Police contact linked to high anxiety in young black adults

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Young black adults who witness or experience police violence have significantly high levels of anxiety, according to new research.


Dr. Robert Motley

In the first study to quantify the impact of police contact anxiety, the researchers found that it was associated with moderately severe anxiety levels in this group of individuals, which highlighted the need for reviewing exposure to police violence in this patient population, according to study researcher Robert O. Motley. Jr., PhD, Manager, Race & Opportunity Lab, Brown School of Social Work, University of Washington, St. Louis, Missouri, said so Medscape Medical News.

“If you are working in an institution and providing clinical care, mental health care or behavioral health care, these additional measures should be included to get a much more comprehensive view of these people’s exposure in terms of “Traumatic events. These assessments can inform your decisions about care,” Motley added.

The results were presented at the 2021 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) virtual.

“Alarming” exposure rates

Evidence shows that anxiety disorders are among the most common conditions for black people aged 18 to 29, an age group described as “emerging adulthood” because these people have not yet taken full responsibility. of adulthood.

Research shows that emerging black adults are three to four times more likely than other ethnic groups to be exposed to actual or threatened non-fatal police violence, Motley said.

“So they didn’t die, they were exposed to force, which could be things like the police calling them, beating them, or kicking them, pointing a gun at them, or doing chores on them.”

These individuals are also two to three times more likely to experience deadly police violence and to be disarmed and killed, Motley said.

Evidence shows a clear link between exposure to stressful or traumatic events and anxiety disorders, but there is little research examining the relationship between exposure to police violence and anxiety disorders among black emerging adults. he said.

To assess the prevalence and correlates of “police contact anxiety,” the researchers used computer-assisted surveys to collect data from 300 young black college students in St. Louis. Louis, Missouri, who had been exposed to police violence at some point in their lives. The mean age of the sample was 20.4 years and included an equal number of men and women.

The employment situation in the previous year showed that almost a quarter (23.6%) were unemployed and about half worked part-time. Nearly two-thirds (62.6%) had annual incomes of less than $ 10,000.

Respondents reported that they had personally experienced police violence almost twice (an average of 1.89) during their lifetime. The average number of times they witnessed police using force against another person was 7.82. Respondents also reported that they had seen videos showing the use of force by police on the Internet or television an average of 34.5 times.

This, Motley said, is not surprising given the growing number of young adults (of all races) who use social media platforms to upload and share videos.

The investigators also examined the presence of community violence (WCV), which has nothing to do with police violence. Here, respondents had an average of 10.9 exposures.

“These results tell me that these people are exposed to high levels of violence during their lifetime, which should be alarming,” Motley said.

Protectors or predators?

To examine the impact of police contact anxiety caused by direct experience or as a result of testimony or to watch a video on police use of violence in the past 30 days, investigators created a anxiety scale by police contact.

Respondents were asked six questions specifically related to experiences during or in anticipation of contact with police and their effects on anxiety levels.

For each of the six questions, participants rated the severity of the anxiety on a scale of 0 (less severe) to 3 (more severe) for each type of exposure. The final score had a potential range of 0 to 24.

The results showed that anxiety from police contact was moderately severe for all three types of exposure, with scores ranging from 13 to 14.

Ordinary least squares regression analyzes showed that, compared to unemployed participants, those who worked full-time were less likely to have anxiety about contacting the highest police as a result of watching a video about unemployment. use of police force (Pg <.05): A finding that Motley said was not surprising.

He noted that employment promotes individual self-efficacy, social participation and mental health, which can provide a “shock absorber” for the purposes of watching police violence videos.

Motley noted that police officers “have been entrusted to serve and protect” the community, but “rarely face consequences when they use force against emerging black adults; they are rarely held accountable.”

These young black adults “may perceive police officers as one more threat to personal safety rather than a protector.”

Additional bivariate analyzes showed that men had significantly higher scores than women in relation to police contact anxiety due to witnessing the use of force by police.

That wasn’t surprising either as men are exposed to more violence in general, Motley said.

It’s important to replicate the results using a much larger, more diverse sample, he said. Her next research project will be to collect data from a nationally representative sample of emerging adults from different ethnic groups and examine a number of different variables.

Commenting on the findings, Jeffrey Borenstein, MD, president and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation and editor-in-chief of Psychiatric News, called it “exceptional”.

“This is a very important topic,” said Borenstein, who moderated a press conference presenting the study.

“We know that anxiety is an extremely important condition and symptom for all groups, and often anxiety is not assessed the way it should be. This is a fantastic study that will lead to further research in this important area.” ” added.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Inequalities. Motley and Borenstein have not revealed any relevant financial relationship.

Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2021: Poster 4822. Presented May 2, 2021.

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