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Health, Science & Environment

New study finds Black people with mental health disorders at higher risk for arrest

Alex Green

A new study at Ohio State University and Duke University finds that Black men and women experiencing mental health disorders are at higher risk for arrest than white American adults.

"Across really any psychological risk factor that we could identify,” said Briana Brownlow, PhD., Assistant Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center. “So that's anger, aggression, impulsivity, personality disorders, juvenile arrest. We found that Black Americans were at a higher likelihood of being arrested than white Americans at the same level of severity of any of those risk factors." 

The study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, aimed to understand whether the association between psychopathology and arrest record is similar for Black and white Americans. Fifteen hundred adults from the Chicago metropolitan participated in the study. They ranged in age from 18 to 82 years old. Among the group, 54.4 % were women and 45.6 % were men. Just over a third of the group identified as Black. 

In the study, researchers examined “whether the relationship between self-reported arrests and psychological factors linked to criminal behaviors varies as a function of race.”

"Across these racial and gender breakdowns, Black people were at a greater rate or greater risk of being arrested, experiencing any kind of psychological risk factors," said Brownlow.

Brownlow said the study found the rate of arrests for Black men increased by more than twice that of white men.

Brownlow also said Black Americans are less likely to receive behavioral health support when they are experiencing psychological distress than white Americans.

"With Black women in particular being five times more likely than white women to be arrested at the same levels of things like impulsivity or having a juvenile arrest record," said Brownlow.

Brownlow stated it is not that Black Americans are more likely to exhibit criminality, nor that Black Americans have more psychological risk factors. 

"The only difference between the people in our sample is their race,” said Brownlow. “And since race is a social construct, it provides more like robust findings and what's driving this difference is racial inequities."

The research highlights that it is important for mental health professionals to recognize that law enforcement officers responding to cases of psychological distress for Black people is more threatening, Brownlow said.

“One of the outcomes that we have as clinicians is to make sure that people get the care that they need, and that we're not missing people or misdiagnosing or misunderstanding folks who could really use therapeutic support, but instead are being criminalized and pushed into the justice system, which has long term effects in a variety of domains of people's lives,” said Brownlow.

Health, Science & Environment Mental HealthAfrican-Americans
Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.