Police violence leads to great anxiety for black Americans


By Cara Murez
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, May 6, 2021 (HealthDay News) – A new poll confirms what many young black Americans already know: they are vulnerable to anxiety disorders, especially during contact with the police or in anticipation of police contact.

“I think it’s important, given what’s happening in society,” said survey author Robert Motley, manager of Race and Opportunity Lab at the University of Washington in St. Louis. Louis.

“And I think it helps us understand better why a lot of this research on police violence and mental health the results have really only started to grow since the Mike Brown incident, ”Motley said, referring to the shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

“We still don’t quite know its impact, number one, because we don’t really know the actual exposure rates, not even how many people are killed by the police, but how many people are exposed to the use of non-lethal force by of the police, “he said.

The survey found that police contact anxiety was moderately high among the 300 survey participants, all of whom attended a community college or university in St. Louis. Louis. Being a man, being unemployed, and having witnessed more community violence was significantly associated with increased anxiety about police contact.


The researchers used a scale to assess the severity of anxiety symptoms a participant experienced over the past 30 days during or when anticipating police contact in light of past experiences, including directly the use of force by the police, witness the use of force or watch a video of the police using force in the media.

The study also found that, on average, survey participants had experienced the use of force by the police almost twice each, had witnessed the use of police force in person more than seven times and had seen a video of the use of force by the police more than 34 times.

Participants had also witnessed community violence (violent acts, among others, involving no police officers), an average of more than ten times in their lifetime.

Motley said his interest in research was always in exposure to community violence among young black adults, but he was influenced by the violence that happened shortly after he arrived in St. Louis. Louis, when a police officer shot Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. 2014.


Brown is one of many names known to those who study police violence or read the news, including George Floyd who was murdered in Minnesota last year.

The study was presented at the virtual annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association last weekend. Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

When someone does not get help for their anxiety, this can lead to behaviors such as substance abuse, in addition to being emotionally closed and not participating in school. It can have a negative impact on family and relationships, Motley noted.

Anxiety can activate the body’s stress response system by making it difficult to concentrate, prioritizing tasks, and causing a person to be concerned about the sense of danger around them, said Dr. Jessica Isom, a psychiatrist at the Health Center. Boston’s Codman Square. Chronicle Stress can cause other health problems, from high blood pressure to the poor to sleep quality, he added.

“The chronic stress experienced as a black person in this country is basically contributing to the same thing, which is a detrimental effect on body and mind,” said Isom, who was not part of the study.


There can be triggers for police contact anxiety in everyday life, in such obvious ways as seeing a police car while driving and worrying about whether officers are paying attention to you and luring you to see a security guard at the mall or a bank, she said.

Providers such as doctors and teachers can work to reduce race-based stress by making sure they don’t contribute to their work. For police specifically, Isom suggests a trauma-based approach.

“The only way to make sure you approach people in a more humane way is the same thing we do in health care. We need to approach people from an informed goal about the trauma, which means you’ll see the interaction through maybe that person hasn’t had a positive previous experience and could be reacting to a catastrophic idea of ​​what that interaction means, ”Isom said.


“For this reason, you would be very careful to 1. check how they live the interaction; 2. provide information about what you do and why you do it, and 3. keep yourself under control. Your increased stress response as a person holding power will not help the person who is subject to your power, ”he said.


Now Motley would like to study a larger sample of individuals and begin to establish national estimates of exposure to violence.

These findings could help doctors become more aware when they see a person from a racial minority in their practices, including the emergency room, who should assess a person’s exposure to violence and symptoms. of anxiety, he said.

“And we hope we can provide them with the proper care they need,” Motley said.

More information

The Washington Post has maintained a database of shot by police officers on guard since 2015.

SOURCES: Robert Motley, PhD, Head of Careers and Opportunities Laboratories, University of Washington, St. Louis, Mo .; Jessica Isom, MD, MPH, psychiatrist, Codman Square Health Center, Boston, and clinical instructor, Yale University, New Haven, Conn .; Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, May 1-3, 2021

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