Graduate Nursing Student Identifies Sociocultural Factors that Hinder African Americans’ Access to Anxiety Diagnosis and Treatment

May 15, 2018
By: Kim Caisse

Villeroy TahVilleroy Tah’s experience with helping her son overcome anxiety attacks sparked her desire to explore the reasons anxiety is underdiagnosed and undertreated in the African American population.

Uncovering “reported statistics about gaps in care with regards to diagnosing anxiety disorders and access to treatment” motivated Tah, a student in Worcester State University’s Master in Nursing-Community/Public Health Specialty program, to continue her research. The result was a project titled “Lived Experiences of African Americans with Anxiety: Sociocultural Factors that Impact Treatment” that was required to complete her master’s degree program and that she presented at the Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity on April 18.

“Anxiety disorders are reported to be the most prevalent mental health disorders in the United States,” Tah wrote in the project’s abstract. “Millions of people are reportedly diagnosed with anxiety yearly and only half of this number receive treatment.”

Tah recalled how her son’s condition slowly intensified from separation anxiety after visiting his grandmother for three months to anxiety attacks. She and her husband “tried to manage” the situations on their own.

“Our cultural background played on role in deferring when he could get help,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if that was true for others within other minority populations, or even true within the same African American community we are part of. It was worth investigating.”

I learned that religion, resilience, stigma, racism, economic status, and access to health insurance were responsible for the gap in care.

Tah set out to determine if “sociocultural factors play a major role in the gap that exists with diagnosing and treating African Americans with anxiety disorder.” By questioning African Americans in her “community of their knowledge of anxiety or mental health disorders, and whether they will seek a counselor’s help for their children,” she proved that they do.

“Together with documented statistics, I learned that religion, resilience, stigma, racism, economic status, and access to health insurance were responsible for the gap in care,” she said.

Tah has committed herself to closing this gap through her work as a nurse.

“Education is necessary for both the members of this population and for the health-care team to screen appropriately and with cultural sensitivity if we must make a difference,” she said.

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