Study Reveals Link Between Community Stress and Mental Health Outcomes for Black Women

A recent study led by August Jenkins, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, has examined how stress from living in a low-quality neighborhood affects the mental health of Black Americans, as well as how these experiences differ between Black men and women.

For their study, the authors investigated data regarding the psychological and neighborhood factors of a sample of Black Americans living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, between 2013 and 2015. They determined the objective quality of their examined neighborhoods by using the Area Deprivation Index, a measurement of any given area’s education, employment, income, and housing factors. The authors also assessed the participants’ perceived levels of community stress based on their reported negative and positive emotions, as well as any psychological disorders.

The results found that Black residents who reported a greater perceived level of community stress were more likely to have higher negative emotions and lower positive emotions. Black women with a high level of perceived community stress were more likely than Black men to experience a psychological disorder.

However, the authors noticed a different trend for communities with an objectively disadvantaged neighborhood as determined by the Area Deprivation Index. For communities with a greater objective level of community stress, Black Americans were less likely to experience negative emotions or a clinical disorder. This trend was even more prominent among Black women.

The authors believe their findings may be explained by a greater sense of social networks among disadvantaged neighborhoods. Although the authors do not interpret their findings as disadvantaged neighborhoods being beneficial for Black women’s mental health, a high level of community stress might lead to neighbors having to rely on each other for support, therefore building a sense of resiliency and social connection that may in turn bring about health benefits.

Dr. Jenkins and her co-authors suggest their research highlights the importance of considering race and gender factors when evaluating the association between neighborhood quality and mental health outcomes. They urge community leaders and policymakers to invest in communities affected by structural racism, while also increasing the availability of clinical interventions and mental health resources.

Dr. Jenkins is a graduate of Michigan State University. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in human development and family studies from Pennsylvania State University.

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