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New Community-Engaged Study Documents Relation Between Mental Health and 'Atmospheric,' Structural Racism

April 04, 2023

A new collaborative study, published in the American Journal of Community Psychology and conducted by members of the Yale Department of Psychiatry and Beulah Heights Church in New Haven, reveals the ways in which mental health can be impacted by “atmospheric,” structural racism.

This study, which set out to examine pathways to mental health challenges like depression within the African American community, details how experiences like repeated workplace discrimination, racial profiling, and mass incarceration create an overall atmosphere that compromises well-being. In this sense, racism and racial inequities were found to be atmospheric, permeating basic conditions of life.

The study featured a community-partnered ethos, with church-based members providing crucial contributions to everything from study design and recruitment to report writing.

The overall collaborative project between Yale researchers and Beulah Heights Church has featured robust community engagement, the creation of a church-based advisory board, and co-designed empirical research. These participatory practices are increasingly seen as integral to the future of health science and health equity.

Kelly Brown, member of Beulah Heights Church and an author of the study said, “Finding the space for the mental health field to partner with an established place of faith allowed the study to successfully survey a specific community in their community. Giving room for racial and religious context in the study, from the blended advisory board to carefully curated questions, prevented the same atmospheric and institutional racism we learned about in the results and informed how our own study was conducted. Hopefully, we can see the value of future partnerships, leaning on assets in the community to help institutions to bring research and services that do not assume or insist, but are effective.”

Denisha Thompson, member of Beulah Heights Church and an author of the study added, “Hope is praying for rain, but faith is bringing an umbrella; And once you choose both, anything is possible. This study helped provide aid in obt­aining a healthy life to become a successful being.”

The collaborative team is currently developing anti-stigma and equity-oriented interventions.

The first author of the study is Miraj Desai, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, and the senior author is Chyrell Bellamy, PhD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health (PRCH). Other authors include Kimberly Guy, Mychal Brown, Denisha Thompson, Bobby Manning, Spencer Johnson, and Larry Davidson.

Funding for this study was provided by the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation and the Spirituality Mind Body Institute of Columbia University.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on April 04, 2023