Using a nationally representative sample of African American men, this study investigated the associations between lifetime history of incarceration, discrimination, and mental health (e.g., depressive symptoms and psychological distress). We hypothesized that discrimination would fully mediate the association between incarceration history and mental health outcomes among African American men.
Using a cross-sectional design, our analysis included 1271 African American men who participated in the National Survey of American Life (NSAL), 2001-2003. Incarceration history was the main independent variable. Depressive symptoms and psychological distress were the dependent variables. Everyday discrimination was the mediator. Age, education, and income were covariates. Structural equation models (SEMs) were used for data analysis.
Among African American men, incarceration history was positively associated with perceived discrimination, depressive symptoms, and psychological distress. Everyday discrimination fully mediated the associations between incarceration history and both depressive symptoms and psychological distress.
Discrimination may play an important role in the mental health problems of African American men with a history of incarceration. These findings have public policy implications as well as clinical implications for mental health promotion of African American men. Policies that reduce preventable incarceration or at least reduce subsequent discrimination for those who have been incarcerated may enhance mental health of previously incarcerated African American men.