Highly public anti-Black violence is associated with poor mental health days for Black Americans

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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Apr 27;118(17):e2019624118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2019624118.


Highly public anti-Black violence in the United States may cause widely experienced distress for Black Americans. This study identifies 49 publicized incidents of racial violence and quantifies national interest based on Google searches; incidents include police killings of Black individuals, decisions not to indict or convict the officer involved, and hate crime murders. Weekly time series of population mental health are produced for 2012 through 2017 using two sources: 1) Google Trends as national search volume for psychological distress terms and 2) the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) as average poor mental health days in the past 30 d among Black respondents (mean weekly sample size of 696). Autoregressive moving average (ARMA) models accounted for autocorrelation, monthly unemployment, season and year effects, 52-wk lags, news-related searches for suicide (for Google Trends), and depression prevalence and percent female (for BRFSS). National search interest varied more than 100-fold between racial violence incidents. Black BRFSS respondents reported 0.26 more poor mental health days during weeks with two or more racial incidents relative to none, and 0.13 more days with each log10 increase in national interest. Estimates were robust to sensitivity tests, including controlling for monthly number of Black homicide victims and weekly search interest in riots. As expected, racial incidents did not predict average poor mental health days among White BRFSS respondents. Results with national psychological distress from Google Trends were mixed but generally unsupportive of hypotheses. Reducing anti-Black violence may benefit Black Americans’ mental health nationally.

PMID:33875593 | DOI:10.1073/pnas.2019624118