New Project Supports Black Men’s Mental Health, Addresses Impact of Trauma and Toxic Environments

New Project Supports Black Men’s Mental Health, Addresses Impact of Trauma and Toxic Environments

The racism and discrimination that Black people regularly experience gained wider recognition after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer shook the world in June 2020. The stress and trauma associated with experiencing racism and violence has negative impacts on health, particularly among young Black men. 

Three UMD experts who study men’s health have teamed up to study the impact of this trauma on long term health and how Black men cope and survive in spite of it with new seed grant funding from the university’s Brain and Behavior Initiative. Craig Fryer, Associate Professor of Behavioral and Community Health, and Kevin Roy, Associate Professor of Family Science, both in the School of Public Health, are working with Joseph Richardson, Professor of African American studies in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, to explore the biological, psychological, and sociological factors associated with Black men’s unique experiences of trauma.

“Trauma is a critically important public health issue,” Fryer said. “Perhaps one of the most important public health issues of our time given our current social and political environment.” 

Fryer says that for some Black men, experiences of trauma begin early in life, are prolonged and remain unresolved. Trauma is also linked to one’s mental health and well-being.

Fryer and Roy both found themes of trauma in their previous research and interviews with Black men, driving them to partner with Richardson, who has worked with victims of gun violence in trauma units in hospital emergency departments. 

Research suggests not only that resilience is a distinct path of recovery from trauma, but that men develop their resilience through many paths. Accordingly, this study is attuned to Black men’s own strengths and adaptations—such as how they draw on close intimate and family relationships—to remain resilient in the face of extensive trauma.

“How can we get a better understanding of the role that trauma plays in their lives and affects their worldview?” Fryer asked. “And their resilience -- their ability to work and provide for their families and friends - how do they both cope and manage their experiences with traumatic events?” 

With the Brain and Behavior Initiative grant, the researchers will explore trauma past, present, and future, by:

  1. gathering a more complete understanding of how Black men give meaning to prior trauma and violence, particularly childhood experiences;
  2. assessing the ongoing stress and risk in toxic environments, including stressors like incarceration, family conflict, racialized violence by the police, and limited employment and educational opportunities; and
  3. cataloguing the creation of strategies for healthy resilience to toxic environments. Multiple rounds of in-depth interviews will be conducted with 30 Black men over the course of a year.

Men will be recruited through barber shops in Prince George’s County, from the Center for Healthy Families (in the School of Public Health), and through the shock trauma unit at Prince George’s Hospital Center, allowing researchers to utilize an ethnographic approach to study men with varying levels of trauma. 

“This is a lot of work, we’ll have a lot of data,” Fryer said. “Ninety individual interviews, in addition to quantitative measures of depression, racial discrimination, adolescent experiences, and PTSD.” 

The year-long project will begin in September with the goal for the team to develop a larger grant proposal designing an intervention to support the mental health and well-being of this population.


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(Craig Fryer (pictured), associate professor of behavioral and community health, Kevin Roy, associate professor of family science, both in the SPH, are working with Joseph Richardson, professor of African American studies (BSOS), to explore the biological, psychological, and sociological factors associated with Black men’s unique experiences of trauma.)

August 13, 2020

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