Psychologists Want Medical Professionals to Consider the Negative Effects of Racial Discrimination When Treating Black Patients

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Making the transition from adolescence to adulthood is hard enough. Throw in the factor of racial discrimination, and the process becomes that much harder. Although the impact of racial discrimination isn’t always immediate or visible, it is very real. That’s why a team of psychologists is working to help young African-Americans cope with the affects of racial discrimination while making medical professionals more aware of the negative impact.

Elan Hope is an assistant psychology professor at North Carolina State University, where she studies the psychology of race, adolescence and identity, Medical Xpress reports. Last year, with the help of Lori Hoggard from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Alvin Thomas of Palo Alto University, Hope published a study concerning the consequences of racism.

“Emerging adulthood is a critical developmental period that bridges adolescence and adulthood and is distinguished by identity exploration through education, vocation, relationships, and culture,” the study’s abstract states. “However, the transition to adulthood is disrupted for African Americans, because they experience interpersonal and institutional discrimination in everyday settings including school, employment, and housing. In this article, we provide a summary of the current literature and explore the psychological, physiological, and sociopolitical consequences of racial discrimination for African American emerging adults.”

According to Medical Xpress, racial discrimination can cause a range of health issues, from elevated blood pressure levels to increased risk of suicidal thoughts.

“It’s important to be aware of these responses to racial discrimination, especially for those who work with emerging adults – because these young people are going through a critical period of development and are particularly vulnerable,” Hope says.

The psychology professor says she hopes the research will be useful to other medical professionals who are used to working with African-American adults between the ages of 18 and 29. These professionals include doctors and nurses, school psychologists, social workers, and family and marriage counselors.

“If these professionals have a better understanding of the consequences of discrimination, they will be better able to serve their patients or clients by attending to the unique challenges those clients face due to their race,” Hope explained.

The study, titled “Becoming an Adult in the Face of Racism,” also offers advice to emerging African-Americans on how to cope with and confront incidents of racism, Medical Xpress reports. For instance, young adults are encouraged to embrace their racial backgrounds and express pride in who they are.

A separate study published in Psychological Science also cites the importance of a supportive family environment in helping combat the negative psychological effects of discrimination.

“There were hints that families that check in about the goings-on and stress their teenagers are dealing with, talk about them, and share different ways of handling them would have teenagers whose cells and tissues would be less likely to show the biological costs of racial discrimination,” explained lead researcher Gene Brody of the University of Georgia.

Lastly, researchers on Hope’s study note the importance of taking a patient’s race into consideration during treatment.

“For example, if a young African-American is presenting symptoms of anxiety, experiences with racial discrimination may be a significant contributing factor,” Hope says. “Ideally, professionals will help their clients confront institutional racism in a healthy way, as well as actively addressing institutional racism themselves.”

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