American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting

American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting

Disclosures: Motley reports no relevant financial disclosures.
May 01, 2021
2 min read

Police contact significant factor in Black emerging adults' high anxiety disorder rates

Disclosures: Motley reports no relevant financial disclosures.
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Black emerging adults in the United States aged 18 to 29 years commonly experienced anxiety disorders, which were the most prevalent disorders among this segment of the population, according to results of a recent study.

Frequent exposure to police violence increased this population’s risk for anxiety disorders.

A researcher presented these results at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting.

Robert Motley

“Research has shown us that Black emerging adults are three to four times more likely than other ethnic groups to experience exposure to nonfatal police violence, two to three times more likely to experience exposure to fatal police violence and also two to three times more likely to be unarmed and killed,” Robert Motley, PhD, manager of the Race and Opportunity Lab at Washington University in St. Louis, said during a press briefing. “There is an association between exposure to stressful or traumatic events and anxiety disorders. Little research has examined the relationship between exposure to police violence and anxiety disorders among Black emerging adults.”

In the current study, Motley and colleagues used computer-assisted surveys to evaluate the prevalence and correlates of anxiety linked to police contact among 300 Black emerging adult college students at a community college or university in St. Louis, Missouri. Specifically, they assessed these outcomes via univariate, bivariate and ordinary least square regression analyses. They used three four-point Likert police contact anxiety scales, which ranged from zero for not at all to three for severely, to evaluate anxiety symptom severity participants experienced in the past 30 days during or in anticipation of police contact linked to having been a victim of police use of force, having witnessed it in person or having seen a video of it in the media.

Results showed moderately high rates of police contact anxiety associated with being a victim of police force, witnessing it in person and seeing a video in the media of it. On average, participants had witnessed more than 10 lifetime incidents of community violence. According to bivariate analysis, men, younger individuals and those who witnessed community violence had significantly increased risk for police contact anxiety (P < .05).

According to ordinary least square regression, participants who worked full-time had reduced risk for higher police contact anxiety linked to having seen a video in the media of police use of force compared with those who were unemployed.

“Prior research suggested that employment can be a mechanism that promotes an individual’s sense of self-efficacy, social participation and mental health. Thus, employed Black emerging adults in our study may have had individual/social support resources that buffered the negative effects of exposure to videos in the media of police use of force,” Motley told Healio.

Further, those who reported higher rates of having witnessed community violence were at increased risk for having higher police contact anxiety linked to having been a victim of police use of force.

“Police officers have an entrusted professional role to safeguard the welfare of the residents in the communities they serve. Yet, police officers rarely face any legal consequences for their use of excessive force against Black emerging adults. Therefore, Black emerging adults in the current study with a history of witnessing community violence may have experienced police contact anxiety as a result of seeing videos of police use of force in the media because they perceive the police as more of a threat to their personal safety instead of a protector of it,” Motley told Healio. “It is vital that clinicians provide a safe space for Black emerging adults to discuss their experiences with police violence, assess police contact anxiety and provide them with adequate treatment.”


Motley RM, et al. Poster 4822. Presented at: American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting; May 1-3, 2021 (virtual meeting).