News & Announcements

New York City’s Muslims and Sikhs Experience High Levels of Harassment, Study Finds

Posted: June 22, 2018

Muslims and Sikhs in New York City have experienced a significant level of harassment in recent years, a new survey published by a city agency has found. 

Nearly half of Sikh respondents to the study and 42 percent of Muslim respondents reported experiencing verbal harassment, threats or taunting that referred to their race, ethnicity or religion. 

The survey of 3,105 Muslim, Arab, South Asian, Jewish and Sikh New Yorkers, published by the city’s Commission on Human Rights, is an attempt to capture the experiences of these minority communities and to quantify how often bias incidents are reported to community or governmental organizations.

The participants, who were all at least 16 years old, were asked about incidents that occurred between July 2016 and late 2017, “a timeframe that encapsulates the climate pre- and post-election,” the authors said. The report refers to policy changes enacted during this time that were “threatening” to some New York communities. 

Nearly 2 in 5 respondents, 39 percent, said they had been verbally harassed in reference to their race, ethnicity or religion, with some people ― 27 percent ― saying that they had experienced this abuse more than once.

Just 9 percent of respondents claimed they’d been physically assaulted because of their race, ethnicity or religion. Black, predominantly Muslim women living in the Bronx were particularly vulnerable to bias-motivated assault, with 19 percent claiming they’d been physically attacked. 

In focus groups conducted before the survey, the researchers found that two specific incidents were frequently brought up by religious minorities: being followed by a security guard or salesperson in a store, or being purposefully pushed or shoved on a subway platform. The commission incorporated questions about these two situations into its study. The survey found that 18 percent of participants claimed they were followed by store staff, while 14 percent reported being shoved on a subway platform. 

About 23 percent of both Muslims and Sikhs reported being followed by store staff. Sixteen percent of the survey’s Muslim participants said they’d been intentionally shoved on a subway platform. Specifically, 27 percent of Muslim Arab women wearing a hijab reported being intentionally pushed.

Albert Fox Cahn, legal director for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said it’s “completely unacceptable” that Muslim New Yorkers who wear a hijab are encountering these attacks. 

“While we all have been jostled on the subway, let’s be clear that we’re talking about the number of respondents who report being ‘intentionally shoved,’” Cahn told HuffPost in an email. “I think that critics need to recognize how dangerous any physical altercation on our subway platforms can be, and how quickly a shove can escalate into something life-threatening.”

The study also sought to measure how often religious minorities in the city reported harassment to community or faith-based organizations, the NYPD, the Commission on Human Rights or other groups. Overall, nearly 71 percent of participants said they chose not to report bias incidents. The biggest barrier to alerting a community or governmental organization was respondents’ belief that no one would take their claim seriously. 

Cahn said he hopes the fact that so many victims fail to report their experiences is a “wake-up call” for the city.

The city’s human rights commissioner, Carmelyn P. Malalis, said that her agency plans to use the data from the survey to better address and prevent these incidents. The commission has launched an ad campaign on social media and on 15 ethnic media outlets to help spread awareness about where people can go for help. 

“No one in New York City has permission to discriminate against or harass others because of who they are, where they pray, or what country they come from,” Malalis said in a statement. “The NYC Commission on Human Rights takes bias-motivated incidents very seriously and we are dedicated to combating them.”

Nationwide, the FBI found that religious bias motivated 1,538, or 21 percent, of hate crimes in 2016, the latest year for which federal data is available. Twenty-five percent of the incidents were anti-Muslim, while 0.5 percent were anti-Sikh.

But the advocacy group Sikh Coalition believes the actual number of hate crimes is much higher ― since the FBI’s data is based on voluntary reports by U.S. law enforcement. The Sikh Coalition estimates that the Sikh community in the U.S. is experiencing an average of one hate crime per week since the start of 2018. 

Read more on HuffingtonPost.com.



Racial/Ethnic and Sexual Minority Males Among Unhealthiest People in America

Posted: June 21, 2018

Men in the United States tend to have more privilege, wealth and career success than women, yet they lead shorter and unhealthier lives. This reality is compounded for men of color and sexual minority men, who are among the unhealthiest people in America, partly due to systemic oppression and discrimination, according to a report released by the American Psychological Association (APA). 

For example, African-American men consistently have life expectancies six years shorter than white men, according to the report. 

“Eliminating early deaths and negative health outcomes among boys and men of color and gay, bisexual and transgender boys and men are essential for the well-being of our country,” said Wizdom Powell, PhD, MPH, chair of the APA Working Group on Health Disparities in Boys and Men, which wrote the report.  “The social justice movements occurring all over America show us there is a deepening national interest in disenfranchised groups. They face unique social stressors that can compromise their health and safety and we wanted to understand how marginalized identities, stress and disadvantage affect health behaviors, coping strategies and outcomes of these vulnerable boys and men.” 

Several factors work against minority boys and men, leading to higher rates of trauma, substance use, depression and violence, according to the report. 

Among other findings:

  • Sexual minority men are more apt to struggle with substance use and continue heavy drinking later in life than heterosexuals. 
  • Latino men are six times more likely to binge drink than Latina women and African-American men are four times more likely to do so than their female counterparts.
  • African-Americans are six times more likely than white people to be incarcerated for drug-related charges. 

The report cited statistics indicating that sexual minority boys and men are at a higher risk for HIV and AIDS and have higher rates of suicide, smoking and being bullied and harassed than heterosexual boys and men. They are also more often targeted for hate crimes.

Racial and ethnic minority males are also vulnerable to suicide, the report highlighted. Recent evidence showed an upsurge in suicide among black boys between the ages of 8 and 11. Also, data from 2014 indicated that American Indian/Alaska Native males had the highest suicide rates of all racial and ethnic groups. 

Depression is one of the most serious health problems around the world, and men’s depression is often masked by alcohol or drugs or by the socially acceptable habit of working long hours. Among men who report an instance of depression over their lifetime, the percentage of African-American men who experience depression lasting longer than a year is significantly higher than white men, at 56 percent compared with 38 percent, according to the report.

Although men commit more than 90 percent of crimes, they are also more likely to be victims of crime and violence, according to the report. Homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American males between the ages of 15 and 34; the second leading cause of death for Hispanics in that age range; the third for American Indians/Alaska Natives; and the fourth for Asian and Pacific Islander males. 

“These well-documented disparities indicate that we have a massive problem and opportunity in our country to positively impact health outcomes facing minority boys and men,” said Powell.

The working group suggested a range of solutions to help eliminate these inequities through changes in public policy and health care. Generating more public awareness was also included as a critical factor in improving health for minority groups. 

The report recommended increased funding for federal research and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor gun violence and support firearm injury prevention research. It also recommended an increase in therapeutic support for families and called for the integration of comprehensive assessments into clinical practice that include screenings for physical and mental health concerns during primary and specialty health care visits. 

“Despite the odds stacked against them, the majority of vulnerable boys and men are resilient and oriented toward personal growth,” Powell said. “We have a lot of hope that we can create better communities and better lives for minority boys and men.”

Read more on APA.org. Access the full report here.



What Makes Communities Healthy? New Data Weighs Equity Heavily, Showcases Successes

Posted: June 19, 2018

Falls Church, Virginia, is only two square miles, but the tiny city has a huge designation: It has been named the healthiest community in the U.S.

Falls Church tops the U.S. News & World Report and Aetna Foundation’s inaugural Healthiest Communities rankings, an analysis of nearly 3,000 communities across the country on a wide range of health markers, such as education, income, public safety, walkability and bikeability, life expectancy, transportation, and infrastructure. The top 500 communities are ranked in order, and data from all 3,000 are online now.

Falls Church was No. 1, as it scored in the top three communities on education, economy and public safety. A suburb of Washington, D.C., the city is home to 14,000 people. Many of the adults in the city have advanced degrees and high incomes. But they are also invested in their community, said Nancy Vincent, MPA, director of the Falls Church Department of Housing and Human Services.

“This is a very active community,” Vincent told The Nation’s Health. “There’s many boards and commissions and community groups that are all well staffed by participants in the programs, serving on the boards that provide the services. That’s a big factor in my mind.”

Vincent said that while just 3 percent of Falls Church residents live in poverty — and with the cost of living in the area, living below the poverty line puts individuals and families at an extreme disadvantage — the city is working to help its most vulnerable residents. The Falls Church Housing Corporation runs an 80-unit program for low-income seniors, offering wellness activities such as yoga and technology classes to keep seniors connected to the community. But the Healthiest Communities data show the city can do more.

“What we can do to improve health for the future is provide more affordable housing,” Vincent added. “There are all kinds of consequences for the community as a whole for having families who are under-housed.”

To serve members of the community, the city contracts with nonprofit organizations and neighboring jurisdictions — its residents are served by the nearby Fairfax County Health Department, for example, and the Northern Virginia Dental Clinic provides dental services. The Fairfax Community Health Care Network offers health care services to uninsured or under-insured residents.

Partnerships also put Falls Church at the head of rankings. Marybeth Connelly, vice mayor, and community outreach lead for Falls Church City Public Schools, points to the schools’ nutrition efforts as an example of where the city is excelling: A partnership between the district’s food services director and teachers — funded by the Falls Church Education Foundation — has resulted in students growing hydroponic lettuce in school to sell to the food services department, which then serves it at lunch to students. Students also farm tilapia and plan to sell the fish to the cafeteria and local markets.

Food Services Director Richard Kane has also solicited local restaurants and other businesses and individuals to donate to the district’s “weekend backpack program,” providing a weekend worth of nutritious food to families in need of assistance.

Addressing social determinants of health, including access to food, housing, and education, is what makes the Healthiest Communities rankings important, said APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD. Benjamin introduced the rankings in an April 9 webinar featuring the Aetna Foundation, U.S. News & World Report and APHA.

“Community is very, very important,” Benjamin said. “I’m excited about the U.S. News rankings; they’re designed to raise awareness of many of the things that affect your health outside the doctor’s office.”

The rankings are the first of their kind to pull data from a wide variety of resources, including metrics from the U.S. Census Bureau, environmental information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and more data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The data was then analyzed using a framework from the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics.

Garth Graham, MD, MPH, FACP, FACC, president of the Aetna Foundation, said the categories were weighted as the communities were evaluated. But no category was given more weight than equity. So a community may be wealthy or well educated, but if its most at-risk residents are not cared for, it can drop in the rankings.

What was particularly interesting, Graham noted, was how neighboring communities’ spots in the rankings could differ wildly.

“What we’ve learned is that all health is local, including the concept of access,” Graham told The Nation’s Health. “What you see in terms of access are areas where people have done unique, specialized infrastructure to improve access.”

The side-by-side comparison is well illustrated by the Tri-County Health Department, which represents three neighboring Colorado counties: Douglas, Arapahoe, and Adams. Douglas was ranked No. 2, while Arapahoe was No. 347 and Adams did not make the top 500 list.

While Colorado is overall a healthy state — four Colorado communities made the top 10 — location matters, said John Douglas, MD, executive director of the Tri-County Health Department. Douglas County has a lot of advantages, he noted: It has plenty of natural amenities, as the Pike National Forest covers about a third of the county. It has a highly regarded school system. It is also a wealthy community, with fewer challenges than its neighbors.

In particular, Arapaho County includes Aurora, which is home to a large number of refugees, who do not come to the community with many resources, Douglas said. Nearly a quarter of the city’s residents are foreign-born, and over 100 languages are spoken by the children in its schools. Adams County is home to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a former weapons-manufacturing area that was the most polluted acreage on the planet. The area is being turned into a wildlife refuge.

These are challenges Douglas County does not face. But the department and the county do not rest on their laurels.

“We’re able to build on our baseline,” Douglas told The Nation’s Health. “We’ve got an extraordinarily fortunate circumstance. We could either say, ‘Gosh, you guys are pretty wealthy, so we don’t have to do anything,’ or what we have done, (which) is say, ‘We have a lot to build on here.’”

And while Douglas County sits higher on the rankings than its neighbors, surveys show its residents’ worries are the same. Mental health, obesity, and access to health care are the top three concerns of all three counties in the department’s jurisdiction.

What makes the rankings unique, and potentially useful, is that they are not static. Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer of U.S. News & World Report, noted that journalists at the magazine will continue to analyze data on the communities for the next two years.

“What makes this different, in addition to the framework, is the ongoing journalistic enterprise,” Kelly said during the April 9 webinar. “You can’t fix what you can’t measure. These tools can greatly benefit counties looking to improve overall community health.”

Read more on TheNationsHealth.APHAPublications.org



The Crisis and Stigma of Mental Health Among Latinas

Posted: June 19, 2018

More than 1 in 4 Latina high-schoolers have thought about committing suicide.

Suicide attempts among Latina teenagers are at a higher rate than their non-Hispanic White female and Hispanic male peers, according to a Salud America! research review.

That’s why it is important to explore the reasons why and what to do about it.

Latinas and Mental Health

In the Latino community, mental health problems often are not spoken about. There is a stigma attached to it. Or people just don’t know enough about it, according to an article. That’s especially true for Latinas.

“The expectations of what makes a ‘good’ Latina are often rooted in propriety and maintaining appearances, specifically when it involves something as personal as mental health or illness,” wrote Liz Magallanes in a Latino USA op-ed.

Latina teens experienced high levels of stress and conflict with their parents due to differences in upbringing, which plays a pivotal role in Hispanic teenage girls’ suicide attempts.

Further, Latinos are less likely than other ethnic/racial groups to call a suicide crisis line when having an actual suicidal crisis.

“Expressing difficulty in grappling with these issues, women may be dismissed as ‘too emotional,’ leaving any productive conversation about breaking the status quo, out of the question,” Magallanes wrote. “It is far too difficult for some then to even consider seeking help from a mental health professional.”

Latina Celebrities, Authors Shed Light to Mental Health Issues

Latina singer Demi Lovato knows firsthand the challenges and stigma of dealing with depression and building resilience. That’s why she teamed up with a nonprofit to bring free mental health sessions to each of her upcoming tour dates, Billboard reports.

Magallanes called it “a step in ensuring communities of color are supported by others who understand what they are experiencing.”

Other Latinas are making similar breakthroughs.

Journalist and filmmaker Raquel Cepeda directed a documentary, Some Girls, which tackles issues in the Latina-American community. The specific focus is on “troubled teenage girls in a Bronx-based suicide prevention program who feel rejected by mainstream America.”

Erika Sanchez’s book, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, focuses on the importance for young people of color dealing with mental health issues to feel seen and heard.

“I think it’s important to talk about mental health. I’m tired of the stigma. People need to see it as a part of health in general. If you’re not mentally well, you’re not physically well. People think [depression] is a character flaw when it’s a mental illness that needs treatment” Sanchez said in an article.

Latina celebrities that have spoken freely about their mental health issues knew seeking professional help was the key to recovery. This includes Selena Gomez, who has shared about her anxiety, panic attacks and depression that goes along with her Lupus condition.

When Latinas speak out, it also encourages and inspires others to take action and seek help concerning one’s own mental health issues.

“When provided with the language and support of family and community, developing the tools to overcome these challenges is possible,” Magallanes wrote.

Read more on Salud-America.org.



Living with Neighborhood Violence May Shape Teens’ Brains

Posted: June 18, 2018

The following article was written by and from the point of view of Darby Saxbe, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California.

Flinching as a gunshot whizzes past your window. Covering your ears when a police car races down your street, sirens blaring. Walking past a drug deal on your block or a beating at your school.

For kids living in picket-fence suburbia, these experiences might be rare. But for their peers in urban poverty, they are all too commonplace. More than half of children and adolescents living in cities have experienced some form of community violence – acts of disturbance or crime, such as drug use, beatings, shootings, stabbings and break-ins, within their neighborhoods or schools.

Researchers know from decades of work that exposure to community violence can lead to emotionalsocial and cognitive problems. Kids might have difficulty regulating emotions, paying attention or concentrating at school. Over time, kids living with the stress of community violence may become less engaged in school, withdraw from friends or show symptoms of post-traumatic stress, like irritability and intrusive thoughts. In short, living in an unsafe community can have a corrosive effect on child development.

Few studies, though, have specifically looked at the toll community violence may take on the growing brain. Recently, I studied this question in collaboration with a team of researchers here at the University of Southern California. Our goal: to see whether individuals exposed to more community violence in their early teen years would show differences in the structure and function of their brains in late adolescence.

Connecting community violence to the brain

My colleague Gayla Margolin, an expert on youth exposure to violence, has been following a sample of Los Angeles-area youth for over a decade. When these teens were about 13 years old, she asked them to fill out a checklist of community violence experiences: hearing gunshots, witnessing a beating, seeing someone do drugs, watching someone get arrested or chased by the police, seeing someone get chased by a gang, or seeing someone get threatened with a beating or stabbing. For our current study, we added these items together to get an overall sense of how much violence each teen had witnessed in his or her neighborhood.

About four years after they took the community violence survey, when the youth were around 17 years old, we asked 22 of them to lie down in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine while we scanned their brains. When we examined the images we’d collected, we zeroed in on two small but critically important structures near the base of the brain: the hippocampus and the amygdala.

The hippocampus, a curved structure shaped like the seahorse it is named after, plays a role in learning and memory. Stress hormones seem to shrink this structure, and adverse childhood experiences like abuse and neglect have been linked with smaller hippocampal volumes later in life. One recent review of research on child maltreatment found that early abuse and neglect predicted smaller hippocampal size in 30 out of 37 studies that looked at the connection.

In our current study, we also measured the size of the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure located close to the hippocampus that is known for its involvement in emotion and threat-related processing. Childhood adversity has also been tied to the size of the amygdala, although this research has been mixed: Some studies have found that people exposed to early stress show smaller amygdala volumes, some show larger amygdalae and some show no relationship at all.

In addition to looking at the size of the hippocampus and amygdala, we also looked at patterns of interconnection between these structures and other regions of the brain. Which parts of the brain “talked” more to each other, as reflected by more tightly correlated levels of activation.

A neural signature of community violence?

In our data, we found that witnessing violence in early adolescence predicted smaller volumes of both the hippocampus and amygdala in this group of teens.

We didn’t measure the absolute size of these structures – instead, we tested the relationship between community violence and brain volume. In other words, if our participants told us at around age 13 that their neighborhoods were higher in crime and violence, the size of these critical brain structures looked smaller about four years later, compared to teens who reported less community violence. Interestingly, this link held up even after we controlled for the youth’s socioeconomic status (family income and education) and their present-day exposure to community violence.

We also found that, among youth exposed to more community violence, the right hippocampus showed stronger connections with other brain regions linked to emotion processing and stress, perhaps suggesting that these youth were more vigilant to potential threat. If you’re used to encountering dangerous situations, maybe you and your brain learn to stay alert to avoid the next potential threat that lurks around the corner.

Our study dovetails with other research on early stress and the brain but is the first to specifically look at the link between community violence and the size and connectivity of the hippocampus and amygdala. Our sample was quite small and limited by the fact that we scanned the youth only once, in late adolescence. Therefore, although our measure of community violence was collected about four years before the scan, we have no way of knowing for sure whether community violence actually led to changes in the hippocampus and amygdala. It’s possible these brain differences preceded the youths’ exposure to community violence. For these reasons, this study should be considered preliminary and needs to be corroborated by much more research.

Despite its limitations, this work takes a first step in showing that community violence is linked with detectable differences in the teen brain in ways that are consistent with other forms of early adversity like abuse and neglect. These effects might be due to stress hormones that flood the developing brain and affect the growth of neural structures like the hippocampus and amygdala.

Youth with smaller hippocampal volumes may show learning and cognitive difficulties, whereas smaller amygdala volumes have been linked with depression risk and behavior problems. In other words, if, as we suspect, community violence has a toxic effect on the brain, downstream effects may emerge both at school and at home. And those effects converge with the deficits in attention, cognition and emotion regulation that other researchers have already noted in youth exposed to community violence. They may even endure into adulthood and contribute to a cascade of risk for further problems in employment and education.

Although community violence may be widespread, that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. Developing kids and teens deserve to feel safe at home, in their schools and in their neighborhoods. As our results and those of many other studies show, growing up in a violent or chaotic environment seems to leave traces on the brain, and may put youth at risk for other problems down the line. Although we don’t usually think of street lights, after-school programs and revitalized park spaces as brain-building improvements, public investment in urban neighborhood safety and quality may have wide-ranging benefits for teens at risk.

Read more on TheConversation.com.



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