A new report summarizing Black Alaskans’ health statuses in various categories highlights some challenges that need to be addressed as well as some positive takeaways.
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The Black Alaskans Health Status Report was commissioned by the Alaska Black Caucus (ABC) through a grant from the Municipality of Anchorage Health Department. It is the first known report of Black Alaskans’ health of its kind.
ABC President and CEO Celeste Hodge Growden said one of the report’s most notable takeaways was its information regarding suicides, which was not among the leading causes of death for Black Alaskans. Suicide was the 6th leading cause of death for American Indians or Native Alaskans, the 8th leading cause of death for white Alaskans, and the 10th leading cause of death for Asians or Pacific Islanders.
“The suicide rate for Black Alaskans was not in the top 10 causes of death in adults, indicating resilience,” Growden said. “However, Alaska has one of, if not the, highest rates of suicide for Black youth. Where’s the disconnect?”
Homicide statistics were also included in the report’s mortality section and was listed as the 10th leading cause of death for Black Alaskans. Homicide was not listed in the top 10 causes of death for other groups. The leading cause of death for all groups was cancer, while heart disease was the 2nd leading cause of death for all groups.
The study found that Black Alaskans are 20 times more likely to report experiencing psychological distress, yet are over 50% less likely to receive counseling or mental health treatment. Growden noted some possible contributing factors to this issue, which include:
- A lack of representation among providers
- Stigmas around mental illness
- Discordance between faith practices and science and health
- Repercussions that come with a diagnosis, including possible denial of insurance or higher insurance rates
The study found that 83% of participants have health insurance coverage, but many reported they couldn’t get the care they needed due to cost or financial factors (61%), providers not accepting a participant’s insurance (38%), unavailability of a provider (42%), or no available appointments (56%).
A positive takeaway from the study was that it identified a sense of resiliency in Black adults, Growden said.
“Black adults have [resilience],” Growden said. “We need to establish programs for our Black youth that strengthen their resilience. Give them opportunities to gather together and be proud of their culture. Provide opportunities for them to be involved in civics. Give them a voice by empowering them.”
Study results also give health care professionals an opportunity to consider key improvements, Growden said.
“Key areas for improvement [include] self-evaluation of implicit bias,” Growden said. “Work to become culturally competent and humble, acknowledging that although an expert in your field, each individual we serve is an expert on themselves and deserves to be heard and respected.”
More work needs to be done to recruit additional Black medical professionals as well, Growden said.