The Trauma of Racism may have Long-Term Impact on Health

The Trauma of Racism may have Long-Term Impact on Health

By Jim Windell

            Racism has multiple effects on Black people, including lasting impacts on their physical and mental health.

            That was a conclusion emphasized in an August, 2020 webinar hosted by PsychU, a community and online resource library for mental health sponsored by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Development & Commercialization Inc.

           The webinar discussion was initiated by Napoleon Higgins, M.D., a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist in Houston. He opened the discussion by providing an historical perspective on racism and how the mistreatment of Black people for generations has destroyed their trust in the American health care system.

           “Because of the history of [racism in] America, we don’t trust America. We question everything we hear,” Higgins said. Higgins is the owner of the Bay Pointe Behavioral Health Services and the Southeast Houston Research Group, and is CEO of Global Health Psychiatry LLC.

           Dr. Higgins said that this mistrust in the health care system is played out in a study that found that Black patients who saw a Black physician were nearly 20% more likely to follow the physician’s recommendations than if they had seen a non-Black doctor.

           “That’s a disparity right there,” Higgins said, “where Black people have issues being able to trust their doctors. Then from the doctor’s point of view, the Black patient is less likely to follow recommendations. The mistrust goes all around between both parties.” He went on to point out that the mistrust contributes to higher rates of death by natural causes among Black people when they don’t get appropriate care.

           The second speaker was Kimone James, M.D., who discussed how microaggressions often go unrecognized as a form of racism. Dr. James is the medical director at two Fresenius Kidney Care sites and instructs internal medicine residents at Wellstar Health Systems in Marietta, Ga.

           “Some people may say, ‘I’m not a racist, I don’t do racist things,’ but as a Black woman, I know that in the workplace alone, microaggressions are prominent, even if it’s someone imitating the way they think Black women swivel their necks,” Kimone James said. “That’s the problem with racism. People often think that racism is the Ku Klux Klan, swinging a Confederate flag, or [using] slurs, but sometimes racism is a very simple thing like microaggression.”

           Dr. Higgins described how repeated exposure to racism in all its forms can take a toll on the body. “If you stress a person out enough, you’re going to see physical changes, “ he said. “It [involves] learning and memory, where you see instances of racism, and then you see it again, and it all stacks up. It increases cortisol, which increases your heart rate and increases your blood pressure because your body is always geared up.”

           Dr. James noted that this stress response contributes to the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community.

           “When people ask me why more Black people are dying of coronavirus, I think, ‘Well, look at our poor bodies right now,’” Dr. James said. “We have increased stress from racial tension, increased lack of medical resources, and more untreated diseases, and you throw on top of it poor air quality [in Black neighborhoods] … and jobs where you’re exposed to toxins because you’re doing factory work. Are those bodies suitable [for defending against] any disease, not to mention coronavirus?”

           Also speaking during the webinar was Betsy Bennett, Ph.D., who addressed white people and what they can do to combat racism as individuals. Dr. Bennett is a clinical health psychologist at Clarity Consulting, a consultant on cultural competency, and adjunct faculty at the Adams School of Dentistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

           “The number one thing you can do is be curious, be open-minded, and learn as much as you can. Try not to be embarrassed about what you don’t know because all that does is get in the way of you learning more,” Bennett said.

           To see the source article, click here.


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