Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Psychosocial Programs for Black Families May Mitigate Mental Health Effects of Racial Discrimination

Family-centered psychosocial interventions may protect young Black adolescents who experience frequent racial discrimination from subsequent mental health problems, according to a report in JAMA Open Network.

“[I]nterventions that focus on strengthening protective caregiving could help to forestall or attenuate some of the mental health problems that racial discrimination can produce,” wrote Gene H. Brody, Ph.D., director of the Center for Family Research at the University of Georgia, and colleagues.

They analyzed data from two community-based randomized clinical trials—the Strong African American–Teen (SAAF–T) program, which included 502 Black adolescents (56% girls) aged 14 to 16, and the Adults in the Making (AIM) program, which included 367 Black adolescents (59% girls and women) aged 17 to 18. These programs have been implemented in 12 rural Georgia counties. At baseline, adolescents in both trials completed the Schedule of Racist Events, which assessed the frequency that adolescents encountered discriminatory events, including racial slurs, physical threats, and false accusations.

SAAF–T consisted of five consecutive weekly, two-hour sessions in which parents or the adolescents’ primary caregivers were taught emotional and instrumental support, limit setting, methods for communicating about sex and alcohol use, and more. Youth learned the importance of abiding by household rules, setting goals for the future and making plans to attain them, and strategies for resisting substance use. Each meeting included one hour of separate training for youth and caregivers, followed by a one-hour caregiver-youth session during which participants practiced what they had learned in the separate sessions.

In the AIM program, youth and their primary caregivers attended six consecutive weekly, two-hour meetings, also with separate parent and youth skill-building curricula. Primary caregivers were taught protective emotional and instrumental support, occupational and educational mentoring, cooperative problem solving, and communication skills. Youth were taught how to make plans to meet their goals, to identify people in their communities who could help them with goal attainment, and to formulate self-care strategies.

In both trials, data were collected on depression, anxiety, and conduct disorders two months before the intervention, six months after baseline, and 18 months after baseline for SAAF–T and 27 months after baseline for AIM. Before and after participation, SAAF–T and AIM primary caregivers reported the frequency and quality of their protective caregiving practices using the Family Support Inventory and the Discussion Quality Scale.

Adolescents assigned to SAAF–T and AIM who had experienced frequent discrimination exhibited fewer conduct problems at follow-up than did youth assigned to the control group in both trials. Those in the AIM program who experienced frequent discrimination also exhibited less depression and anxiety symptoms than those in the control group.

“[M]ore supportive parents may be better able to establish strategies that enhance their children’s emotion regulation for coping with racial discrimination,” the researchers wrote. “This in turn may have reduced the physiological and psychological effects of racial discrimination that can influence mental health. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that family-centered prevention was associated with buffering the effects of racial discrimination on adolescents’ mental health.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Trauma of Racism Has Long-Term Impact on Health.”

(Image: iStock/fizkes)

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