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African Americans -- Mental health, Stress (Physiology), Race discrimination


Toxic stress is a reaction to ongoing adversity such as abuse, neglect, poverty, racism, discrimination, and exposure to violence; it is powerful enough to change brain chemistry and architecture. Toxic stress and associated changes to the brain can lead to poor health outcomes later in life. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), racism*, and discrimination can trigger toxic stress and have long term consequences for the health of many people, particularly those in the Black and African American community.

The current project examined toxic stress and its impact on the health of Black and African American Oregonians. We looked at two indicators of toxic stress: reports of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and recent experiences of racism among adults. Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) were analyzed, followed by a series of focus groups with Black and African American Oregonians. Our goal was to assess whether experiences of racism as an adult exacerbate the negative effects of ACEs on the health of this community.

Three focus groups of Black and African American community members were conducted in Northeast and East Portland. Each group was co-facilitated by Dr. Hunte and Alexis Phillips, two members of the African American community. A total of 38 individuals participated in the focus groups. Participants were given information about the concept of toxic stress and BRFSS findings related to perceived racism and ACEs in the Black community. They were asked to reflect on the meaning of BRFSS findings in relation to their community, the efficacy of how the BRFSS is administered, and reactions to the survey’s ACEs and perceived racism questions.


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