Close relationships affect mental and physical health: Those with supportive close relationships tend to live healthier and happier lives compared to those with less supportive or more strenuous relationships. For Black Americans, however, systemic and daily experiences of racial discrimination may spill over into the family and affect close relationships, thereby contributing to worse health and well-being. A study in the Journal of Family Psychology examined whether racial discrimination is linked to Black Americans’ mental and physical health through lower levels of perceived support and greater levels of strain among family members.

Using data from the Midlife Development in the United States 2: Milwaukee project and guided by the biobehavioral family model, Jacob B. Priest and colleagues found that reports of higher levels of family support were linked to better mental and emotional health, and that better mental health was subsequently linked to better physical health among Black American adults. However, experiencing greater racial discrimination was linked to more family strain and less family support, and less family support was linked to worse physical health via worse mental health. In short, it appears that racial discrimination negatively affects the mental and physical health of Black Americans by negatively affecting family quality. These links were found above and beyond the effects of romantic partner relationship quality. Although discrimination was associated with partner strain, the quality of romantic relationships was not linked to health in this sample.

This study adds to the growing evidence demonstrating that experiencing discrimination can have harmful effects on the individual mental and physical health of Black Americans through the effect of discrimination on family relationships. Given the systemic and daily experiences of racial discrimination that Black Americans face, it is necessary to find responsive ways to reduce health disparities among Black families by enacting policies and practices that combat racial discrimination and anti-Black racism. This necessary next step should include improving access to culturally responsive couple and family therapy through changes in healthcare training and policy.