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Researchers Explore Mental Health Paradoxes, Why The Issue May Not Be Black And White

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Dr. Verna Keith is a professor and chair of sociology at the University of Alabama. In a recent study she analyzed the black-white racial paradox in mental health. This paradox describes the situation where black individuals generally have lower or similar rates of mental disorder relative to white individuals. 

“People have tried to solve this dilemma of why they [black individuals] do so well in mental health when they’re disadvantaged socially and economically".

Keith explains that as a result of cultural stereotypes and discrimination, researchers expect a higher prevalence of mental illness amongst African Americans. However, she doesn’t expect this issue to be black and white. She describes race as existing on a continuum.

“So my talk today was about looking at whether the way we measure race aggregates a lot of different individuals together in a way that masks groups that may be at high risk,” Keith says.

By introducing factors like self-identified and observed skin tone, she believes researchers can better understand how we treat and diagnose diverse individuals.

While preliminary results did not disprove the paradox, Keith challenges its ability to capture nuances. For example, for black individuals seeking treatment, she says that while prevalence is lower, “When they are diagnosed, when they do suffer from a mental disorder, then the level of severity tends to be greater for them”.