The association between discrimination and PTSD in African Americans: exploring the role of gender

Ethn Health. 2020 Jul;25(5):717-731. doi: 10.1080/13557858.2018.1444150. Epub 2018 Feb 28.


Background: Research has demonstrated the adverse impact that discrimination has on physical and mental health. However, few studies have examined the association between discrimination and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There is evidence that African Americans experience higher rates of PTSD and are more likely to develop PTSD following trauma exposure than Whites, and discrimination may be one reason for this disparity. Purpose: To examine the association between discrimination and PTSD among a cross-sectional sample largely comprising African American women, controlling for other psychosocial stressors (psychological distress, neighborhood safety, crime). Methods: A sample of 806 participants was recruited from two low-income predominantly African American neighborhoods. Participants completed self-report measures of PTSD symptoms, perceived discrimination, perceived safety, and psychological distress. Information on neighborhood crime was obtained through data requested from the city. Multivariate linear regression models were estimated to assess adjusted relationships between PTSD symptoms and discrimination. Results: Discrimination was significantly associated with PTSD symptoms with a small effect size, controlling for relevant sociodemographic variables. This association remained consistent after controlling for psychological distress, perceived safety, and total neighborhood crime. There was no evidence of a gender by discrimination interaction. Participants who experienced any discrimination were significantly more likely to screen positive for PTSD. Conclusions: Discrimination may contribute to the disparate rates of PTSD experienced by African Americans. PTSD is associated with a range of negative consequences, including poorer physical health, mental health, and quality of life. These results suggest the importance of finding ways to promote resilience in this at-risk population.

Keywords: African American; Posttraumatic stress disorder; discrimination; disparities; minority; unfair treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Crime / psychology
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life
  • Racism / psychology
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / ethnology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology
  • Whites / psychology