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Police Interactions and the Mental Health of Black Americans: a Systematic Review


Black Americans comprise 13% of the US population, yet data suggests that they represent 23% of those fatally shot by police officers. Data on non-lethal encounters with police in the Black community is less available but can understandably result in emotional trauma, stress responses, and depressive symptoms. The aim of this systematic literature review is to assess if interactions with the police are associated with mental health outcomes among Black Americans. Following pre-defined inclusion criteria, 11 articles were reviewed. Using a quality assessment tool, eight studies received a fair quality rating, two studies a poor rating, and one study received a good rating. The types of police interaction reported among study participants included police use of force during arrest, police stops, police searches, exposure to police killings, and interactions with police in the court system and varied mental health outcomes. Most of the studies (6 of 11) reviewed found statistically significant associations between police interactions and mental health (psychotic experiences, psychological distress, depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicidal ideation and attempts), indicating a nearly twofold higher prevalence of poor mental health among those reporting a prior police interaction compared to those with no interaction. Although better quality studies are needed, findings suggest an association between police interactions and negative mental health outcomes. Changes in law enforcement policy, development and implementation of a validated instrument for police experiences, improved community outreach, a federally mandated review of policy and practice in police departments, and expanded police training initiatives could reduce the potential negative mental health impact of police interactions on Black Americans.

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Correspondence to Melissa N. McLeod.

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McLeod, M.N., Heller, D., Manze, M.G. et al. Police Interactions and the Mental Health of Black Americans: a Systematic Review. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities 7, 10–27 (2020).

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  • Policing
  • Police
  • Black Americans
  • African-Americans
  • Mental health
  • Depression