Racial health disparities have harmed generations of Black Americans
Racial health disparities have harmed generations of Black Americans. From birth to death, they suffer more health problems compared to their white counterparts, the Associated Press said in a report.
African Americans have higher rates of infant and maternal mortality, higher incidence of asthma during childhood, more difficulty treating mental illness as teens, and higher rates of high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease and other illness as adults.
Black women have the highest maternal mortality rate in the United States — 69.9 per 100,000 live births for 2021, almost three times the rate for white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 2021 rate was a significant increase from the prior year.
Black babies are also more likely to die, and also far more likely to be born prematurely, setting the stage for health issues that could follow them through their lives. In 2020, there were 364,487 preterm births in the nation, about 1 in 10. Preterm birth rates were highest for Black infants, 14.2%, between 2018 and 2020.
Multiple factors contribute to these disparities, according to the CDC and advocacy organizations, such as underlying health conditions. But more doctors and experts have pointed to the role of structural racism that has created inequitable access to health care, implicit bias and discriminatory care.
Poor health care or outcomes for Black mothers in turn can create issues for their babies, putting them at risk for future health problems down the road.
The disparities are built into a housing system shaped by the longstanding effects of slavery and Jim Crow-era laws. Many of the communities that have substandard housing today or are located near toxic sites are the same as those that were segregated and redlined decades ago.
Racism affects black teens' mental health
About 50% of Black youth experience moderate to severe symptoms of depression, and about 18% said they were exposed to racial trauma often or very often in their life.
The drivers of the mental health crisis for Black children begin early and persist through a lifetime. Black children’s first encounters with racism can start before they are even in school, and Black teenagers report experiencing an average of five instances of racial discrimination per day.
Young Black students are often perceived as less innocent and older than their age, leading to disproportionately harsher discipline in schools.
Black adolescents are far less likely than their white peers to seek and find mental health care. In part, that’s because Black families often distrust the medical system after generations of mistreatment — from lack of access to care to being subjected to racist practices and experimentation.
The country also has a shortage of providers who understand the roles that racial identity and racism play in shaping young Black people’s mental health. Research and health surveillance data point to a growing mental health crisis among Black youth over decades.
Between 1991 and 2019, Black adolescents had the highest increase among any other group in prevalence of suicide attempts — a rise of nearly 80%.