Session: Exploring Pathways to Mental Illness Among African Americans: A Life Course Perspective (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

242 Exploring Pathways to Mental Illness Among African Americans: A Life Course Perspective

Sunday, January 17, 2016: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Ballroom Level-Congressional Hall A (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
Cluster: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration
Symposium Organizer:
Ann W. Nguyen, MSW, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
African Americans tend to be more socially disadvantaged and experience more stressful events, compared to whites.  For example, African Americans have the highest homelessness rates (Solari et al., 2014) and the second highest poverty rates among all racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. (Macartney, Bishaw, & Fontenot, 2013).  Moreover, African Americans represent the largest racial group among prisoners in the U.S. (Carson, 2014).  Research demonstrates that social disadvantage and stressful events negatively impact mental health.  A well established area of literature examines social factors that influence mental disorders.  Previous research indicates that a wide range of social risk factors, such as homelessness, negative social interactions, and discrimination, are associated with mental illness.  Although these risk factors have been widely examined in the general population, few studies have examined these factors specifically among African Americans.

The purpose of this symposium is to explore a range of social factors that contribute to diverging pathways to mental illness among African Americans across the life span.  These studies use both quantitative and qualitative methodologies in order to provide a more in depth and nuanced examination of mental illness and its triggers.  The first study explores the impact of homelessness on mental illness among middle-aged and older African American men (aged 45-65) in Detroit, MI.  Through qualitative analysis of narratives, themes of resilience and identity emerged.  Using a nationally representative sample of African Americans, the second study examines profiles of positive and negative aspects of social relationships (i.e., social support network typologies) among African American adults (aged 18-93) and how these profiles are linked to suicidality.  The third study investigates the traumatic experiences of young African American men (aged 18-24) who interacted with police in Baltimore, MD using an ethnographic approach.  Themes of violence, fear, and trauma were identified in the men’s narratives of their encounters with the police.

Despite the numerous studies on social determinants of mental illness in the general population, few studies have examined the unique impact of various social factors on African Americans’ mental illness using a life course perspective.  Further, fewer studies have used innovative statistical and methodological approaches to explore this topic among African Americans.  This symposium brings together complementary methodological approaches to address limitations of the extant literature. Collectively, these studies advance social work research by adding to the breadth and depth of our understanding of how varied social factors contribute to mental illness among African Americans across the life span.  Implications for social work intervention, policy, and practice are discussed.

* noted as presenting author
Surviving in Detroit: Mental Health Implications for Men Experiencing Homelessness after the Death of a Parent
Tam E. Perry, PhD, Wayne State University; Justin Petrusak, MSW, Neighborhood Service Organization; Luke Hassevoort, MSW, Wayne State University
Social Support Network Typologies and Suicidality Among African Americans
Ann W. Nguyen, MSW, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; Robert Joseph Taylor, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; Linda M. Chatters, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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