(Photo:Flickr/Rennett Stowe)

When African American men respond to racism by holding in their feelings and not reacting outwardly, they could be doing more harm than good for their mental health, according to a University of North Carolina study.

“We know that traditional role expectations are that men will restrict their emotions – or ‘take stress like a man,’” said study author Wizdom Powell Hammond. “However, the more tightly some men cling to these traditional role norms, the more likely they are to be depressed.”

Hammond looked at a phenomenon called “everyday racism,” which is defined not by how extreme the cases of prejudice are, but by their “persistence and subtlety”:

“She found that everyday racial discrimination was associated with depression across all age groups. Younger men (aged under 40) were more depressed, experienced more discrimination and had a stronger allegiance to norms encouraging them to restrict their emotions than men over 40 years old. Furthermore, some men who embraced norms encouraging more self-reliance reported less depression. … The data also showed that when men felt strongly about the need to shut down their emotions, then the negative effect of discrimination on their mental health was amplified. The association was particularly apparent for men aged 30 years and older.”

Everyday racism, Hammond said, “chips away at people’s sense of humanity and very likely at their hope and optimism. We know these daily hassles have consequences for men’s mental health, but we don’t know why some men experience depression while others do not.”

She continued, “It seems as though there may be a cumulative burden or long-term consequences of suffering such persistent discriminatory slights and hassles in silence. Our next task is to determine when embracing traditional role norms are harmful or helpful to African American men’s mental health.”

Source: University of North Carolina

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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