Black Americans are nearly three times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts, with even larger disparities among those who are unarmed — and these deaths are also harming the mental health of the wider black community, according to a new study co-led by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher.
Published in the The Lancet, the study is the first to show that police killings of unarmed black Americans have a causal population-level impact on the mental health of other black Americans. It suggests police killings could contribute 55 million more poor mental health days every year among black Americans, comparable to an estimated 75 million poor mental health days among black Americans attributed to diabetes.
The researchers combined newly released data on police killings between 2013 and 2016 from the Mapping Police Violence Project database with data from the U.S. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The researchers looked at the nearly 40,000 black Americans who were interviewed by BRFSS within three months following at least one death of a black American at the hands of police in their state. Researchers then compared the number of poor mental health days experienced by black Americans surveyed after a police killing of an unarmed black person to that of black Americans residing in the same state surveyed before that event.
“Addressing this problem will require interventions to reduce the prevalence of police killings as well as programs that mitigate the adverse mental health effects in communities when these events occur,” says co-lead author Dr. Jacob Bor, assistant professor of global health at BUSPH. “More broadly, the findings indicate that events widely perceived to reflect structural racism can cause significant harm to the mental health of black Americans. Efforts to reduce health disparities should explicitly target structural racism.”