What impact does race have on mental health? New hiring of U. to explore, address disparities

The Hunstman Mental Health Institute and the University of Utah Department of Education have announced a new hire to explore racial disparities in mental health services as part of a broader collaboration. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY – The Hunstman Mental Health Institute and the University of Utah Education Department have announced a new hire to explore racial disparities in mental health services as part of a broader collaboration.

Racial disparities in health services were illuminated during the COVID-19 pandemic, with minorities having the highest coronavirus death rates and case counts nationwide.

In April 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared racism a public health crisis. The statement was later repeated by the Salt Lake City Council and Mayor Erin Mendenhall, who passed a joint resolution in July 2021.

Both the CDC and the Salt Lake City Council have acknowledged that while the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted health disparities, those disparities existed before the pandemic began.

In an effort to address and deepen the understanding of race as a factor in mental health services and research, William Smith has been appointed Chief Executive Officer for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

Smith has been nationally recognized for his research on “racial battle fatigue,” a term he coined in 2003. The term is used to describe psychophysiological symptoms – from hypertension to anxiety, frustration, shock, anger and Depression – people of color can experience while living and navigating historically white spaces.

“We need to understand how these racial stresses are affecting people differently based on their interconnected identities,” Smith said.

Mental health can be adversely affected as a result of traumatic events. A University of Utah study found that black Americans “reported more days of poor mental health in the weeks when two or more high-profile racial violence incidents occurred and when national interest was greater. “.


We don’t need another blue ribbon committee to study a lot of things we already know and have results for, but we need to take action.

–William Smith


Psychological stress can lead to poor health outcomes, such as a high risk of heart disease or diabetes.

“There is strong evidence that in addition to being a social and moral crisis, racism is a major public health problem that increases the risk of a number of diseases and mental health problems,” said researcher David Chae. “The experiences of others in a racial group are shared and can also be a source of personal stress.”

Smith’s position will work to implement the necessary programmatic and policy changes that address health inequalities and eliminate bias. While it may be “too early for political work,” conversations with key stakeholders have begun on how to deal with mental health in a multifaceted way.

“We want to be a verb in this process. We want to get things done. We don’t need another blue ribbon committee to study a lot of things we already know and have results for, but we need to act,” Smith said. “Try to embrace communities and find out what they need, not what we think they need, what they need, and then we make it happen.”

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Ashley Fredde deals with human services, minority communities and women’s issues for KSL.com. She also enjoys reporting on art, culture and entertainment news. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona.

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