I feel sickened by George Floyd’s death and the police brutality we all witnessed. I stand by Black Lives Matter and an end to racism, social injustice and inequalities. In the light of current events in the USA and around the world, today’s article highlights the prevalence of mental health in the Black community, the biological impacts of trauma, racism and intergenerational trauma, some reasons why mental health services are not being used, the impacts of racism on physical health and some resources geared to Black mental health.
In this recent article by Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, Addressing Mental Health in the Black Community, we learn the following:
Research suggests that the adult Black community is 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems, such as Major Depressive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Additionally, Black emerging adults (ages 18-25) also experience higher rates of mental health problems and lower rates of mental health service utilization compared to White emerging adults, and older Black adults.
What shocked me was reading this statistic: “the Black community comprises approximately 40% of the homeless population, 50% of the prison population, and 45% of children in the foster care system.” All of this puts the Black community is at more risk for mental health issues.
The article also highlights the biological impacts of trauma“through enslavement, oppression, colonialism, racism, and segregation” and shares that “intergenerational trauma may be passed down biologically from one generation to the next.”
Some of the factors that may lead to mental health services not being used amongst the Black community are lack of trust, lack of finances and fear:
Lack of trust in the medical system due to historical abuses of Black people in the guise of health care, less access to adequate insurance, culturally responsive mental health providers, financial burden, and past history with discrimination in the mental health system.
I encourage you to read the entire article at this link.
This paper, Transgenerational Consequences of Racial Discrimination for African American Health goes further into the intergenerational effects of racism on both psychological and physical health: immune health, heart health, obesity, diabetes and so on. The paper concludes as follows:
without addressing the harmful consequences of racial discrimination, improving the health of African Americans as well as other marginalized groups, will remain inadequately addressed.
This inspiring quote is from Nelson Mandela from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994) and no-one says it better than him. It is a message of hope!
Here are some resources geared specifically to Black mental health
- Black Mental Health Resources to Fight the Harmful Effects of Racism
- Black lives matter. Black mental health matters too.
With regards to nutritional support for anxiety, depression and PTSD, everything that I write about in terms of nutritional psychiatry applies. My book, The Antianxiety Food Solution, covers the foundations of diet and how to use amino acids. This recent blog, The psychological trauma of coronavirus – nutritional support for doctors, nurses and their loved ones could easily be adapted to be: The psychological trauma of racism – nutritional support for the Black Community.
I am very aware that when it comes to working with a functional medicine practitioner or a nutritionist, and purchasing supplements/doing special diets may be a major stumbling block for many Blacks with financial hardships. This needs to become the standard of care so everyone has access to resources like these.
Until then finding access to real whole foods is a powerful first step. In the SMILES diet depression trial, the first randomized controlled diet depression study, ONE THIRD of the dietary intervention group saw improvements in their depression and anxiety symptoms. This was simply by switching from processed/junk food to real food with no specific dietary restrictions.
This is the power of nutritional psychiatry:
Although the growth in scientific research related to nutrition in psychiatry may be recent, it is now at a stage where it can no longer be ignored. In light of this, we aim to provide a platform to move towards a new integrated paradigm in psychiatry whereby nutritional considerations (both educational and prescriptive) can be considered “mainstream”.
The International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research/ISNPR made the above statement via a letter published in 2015 in World Psychiatry, the official journal of the World Psychiatric Association – “International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research consensus position statement: nutritional medicine in modern psychiatry.” You can read more about this here.
This recent paper, Nutritional Psychiatry: Towards Improving Mental Health by What You Eat, further adds to the discussion, providing an “overview of the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry, exploring the scientific evidence exemplifying the importance of a well-balanced diet for mental health.”
I recently heard integrative psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Brogan, share this on The Trauma and MindBody Super Conference:“it’s best to address trauma when your nervous system has physiologically improved.” She always starts with addressing physiology: diet, gluten issues, the gut and microbiome, blood sugar stability, micronutrient deficiencies such as low B12, low thyroid and other contributing physiological root causes.
By incorporating nutritional psychiatry and functional medicine approaches we can provide additional healing support for the depression, anxiety, current trauma and intergenerational trauma caused by racism and inequalities.
The above SMILES Diet Depression study doesn’t mention race. There are, however, many studies that didn’t make it into the blog because I felt compelled to publish something quickly.
Here are some of them:
- Variation in the Prevalence of Depression and Patterns of Association, Sociodemographic and Lifestyle Factors in Community-Dwelling Older Adults in Six Low- And Middle-Income Countries
China, Ghana, India, Mexico, the Russian Federation, and South Africa…examine the relationship between demographic and lifestyle characteristics and depression….. Increased fruit and vegetable intake appeared to co-occur with significantly lower rates of depression, suggesting diet as a modifiable factor for addressing depression burden.
- Community-based Fortified Dietary Intervention Improved Health Outcomes Among Low-Income African-American Women
Among overweight/obese women, improvement in health-related quality of life related to physical health, a significant decrease in depressive score, and a reduction in waist circumference were noted.
I am not an authority on Black mental health, racism or intergenerational trauma. As I look into the research, read articles and listen to podcasts, I acknowledge that I’ve been learning a great deal. And I know I still have much to learn.
I am, however, an authority on food and using a nutritional approach for anxiety. Real whole nutrient-dense food is the foundation and always will be – for every single human regardless of race. We do, however, need more programs and studies that are specific for people of color.
This needs to be a public health initiative where we also address the food security issues. According to this paper, Food Insecurity and Maternal Mental Health Among African American Single Mothers Living With HIV/AIDS in the Alabama Black Belt, “Food insecurity places low-income African American women at risk of depression.” This is one of many similar such studies.
Together with this we need to address racism. This paper, Experiences of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination Are Associated with Food Insecurity and Poor Health, sums up with this:
Public health interventions intended to improve food security and health may be only partially effective without simultaneously addressing racism and discrimination
If you have information on non-profit organizations, community gardens, community kitchens and other resources for supporting Black communities when it comes to nutritional supplements, food insecurity and food deserts, and eating real foods please share in the comments.
For now check out and be inspired by Ron Finley, the Gangsta Gardener – and his amazing community garden and gardening masterclasses:
Ron envisions a world where gardening is gangsta, where cool kids know their nutrition and where communities embrace the act of growing, knowing and sharing the best of the earth’s fresh-grown food.
Determined to change South Central Los Angeles from food desert to food forest, he wants his actions to be educational, inspiring, and nutritious. He wants kids to grow up with the option of healthy food, instead of fried, fattening staples. He wants to sweep up and transform his street, his hood, the city of LA and communities everywhere.
Please also share your experiences supporting mental health in Black communities. And if you’ve been subject to racism and felt the mental and physical effects please share too. We’re here to support you and learn how we can do better.