UCLA Studies Highlight Disparities in Trauma-Related Mental Health Issues

Author Details

David Dexter

Communications Coordinator

Organization: California Pan-Ethnic Health Network

Go to California Pan-Ethnic Health Network

Earlier this week, the UCLA Center for Culture, Trauma, and Mental Health Disparities released two studies showing that low-income African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately impacted by mental health issues and chronic conditions. The studies examine five environmental factors that can be used to predict adult depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder:

  • Experiences of discrimination due to racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation
  • A history of sexual abuse
  • A history of violence in the family or from an intimate partner
  • A history of violence in  an individuals’ community
  • A chronic fear of being killed or seriously injured

The researchers found that repeated exposure to these factors can have a more severe impact as they accrue over a lifetime.

“The costs to society of these life experiences are substantial,” said Hector Myers, a former UCLA psychology professor and first author of the Psychological Trauma study. (Myers is now a professor at Vanderbilt University.) “We know there is a poorer overall quality of life, a loss of productivity, greater social dependency, disability, health and mental health care costs, and early mortality as a result of repeated experiences of stress and trauma.”

They also expressed confidence that the findings of the study could be used to better address the health needs of communities that experience societal trauma at higher rates. Further, they noted that with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there is increased access to mental health treatment and care.

“The ACA provides a unique opportunity to identify those who have not been assessed for the adversities and trauma that can affect mental health needs. This research could provide the tools to make that assessment,” [said Gail Wyatt, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and a senior author of both studies.]

“The next step is to offer individuals tools to more effectively cope with the adversities and trauma that they endure. One of the advantages of affordable primary care is that we will have the opportunity to offer skills for people who have not had mental health care for those experiences, one day soon. They will no longer have to manage on their own.”

At CPEHN, we recently worked with the California School-Based Health Alliance to release Making the Health Home Model Work for Boys and Men of Color. This brief highlights how boys and young men of color are exposed to trauma and violence at particularly high rates and how patient-centered health homes can be used to increase access to care for this hard-to-reach population.

Additionally, during our work on the California Reducing Disparities Project’s Statewide Strategic Plan to Reduce Mental Health Disparities, we traveled across California hosting community forums to discuss mental health. At each of these events, we heard community members discussing the importance of addressing exposure to violence and trauma in low-income communities and communities of color. You can read some of the recommendations included in the draft report on our website. The final report, including the revisions from the public comments we received at the event, will be released later this year.