July 14, 2016

Men are less likely than women to seek help for health issues because they believe help-seeking is not “masculine,” research has shown. As a result, men in the United States have shorter lives and are more at risk for chronic diseases than are women.

African-American men, however, face additional barriers to seeking help that are related to racism, racial identity and other factors.

Dr. Wizdom Powell, headshot

Dr. Wizdom Powell

New research, led by Wizdom Powell, PhD, associate professor of health behavior at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, tests a hypothetical model to show relationships between these factors and the Barriers to Help-Seeking Scale for African-American men. Powell and colleagues conclude that interventions aimed at improving help-seeking for African-American men should address both masculinity norms and additional psychological factors related to being black in the U.S.

The study, published online June 23 in the journal Behavioral Medicine, is co-authored by Leslie B. Adams, health behavior doctoral student at the UNC Gillings School.

Data for the study were taken from the African-American Men’s Health and Social Life Study (2007-2010). The sample included 458 African-American men, ages 18 years and older, who were recruited from barbershops and a historically black college in the southern and western U.S.

Powell’s analysis examined the relationship of African-American men’s sense of “being male” (having power and courage; not needing help), their experience of racial discrimination or everyday racism, racial identity, threats to their sense of being in control and psychological factors (specifically, depressed mood) to determine barriers likely to prevent African-American men from seeking health care.

The researchers found, for instance, that men with higher adherence to the norms of “maleness” experience help-seeking as threatening to their masculine identity. Additionally, men who experience more everyday racism report more barriers to health care because the health-care system diminishes their sense of control. In contrast, strong racial identity has a positive impact upon help-seeking behaviors because having a strong sense of self increases one’s sense of control and decreases feelings of depression.

“This study suggests that help-seeking resistance for African-American men may not simply be about demonstrating masculinity,” Powell said. “Our results also imply that health help-seeking barriers in African-American men are triggered not just by health-care access or costs, but by everyday experiences, such as racial profiling, that chip away at psychological well-being.”

Other study co-authors are Yasmin Cole-Lewis, graduate student in the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor’s School of Education; Amma Agyemang, psychology graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Rachel D. Upton, research scholar at the American Institutes for Research http://www.air.org/, in Arlington, Va.

The research was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars Program and The University of North Carolina Cancer Research Fund. Additional funding was provided by the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for AIDS Research at National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu


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