Incarceration Associated with Negative Mental Health Risks for Black Men
A review of literature from the past decade found that for this group in the U.S. such a detention was linked to higher levels of psychological distress, more severe symptoms of PTSD and depression, and more.
When University of Pennsylvania doctoral student Helena Addison worked as a nurse at an inpatient psychiatric hospital, she encountered many people who had previously been incarcerated. The interactions made her want to better understand the mental health fallout from such an experience.
“Initially, I was looking at incarceration as a source of trauma for Black men,” says Addison, a fourth-year Presidential Ph.D. Fellow in Penn’s School of Nursing. “As I learned more, it broadened to the idea of incarceration as a social determinant of health, still specifically looking at mental health.”
In collaboration with Sara Jacoby, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing, Addison evaluated what science currently knows about the psychological ramifications for Black men of going through such a detention. Reviewing nearly two dozen articles from the past decade, she discovered that for this group in the United States there exists a link between incarceration and higher levels of psychological distress, more severe symptoms of PTSD and depression, and many other facets of poor mental health.
“Incarceration is underappreciated as a social determinant of health,” says Jacoby, whose research focuses on trauma and violence. “It’s something that we talk about, but it’s not something that’s always articulated so specifically. This work does so in a way that has been lacking for nursing and a broader health care audience.”
Understanding health disparities and mental health has always interested Addison. In addition to her clinical inpatient psych nursing experience, she had previously studied trauma and interpersonal violence exposures among men, women, and youth. When she began the doctoral program at Penn, she thought she’d research incarceration as a source of trauma for Black men, who are detained at nearly six times the rate of white men in the U.S.
This is an excerpt from a longer story which was first published in Penn Today. It was written by Michele Berger, senior science communication officer in University Communications.