Police brutality, heightened vigilance, and the mental health of Black adults


Objectives: To examine whether heightened vigilance partially explains associations between police brutality, depressed mood, and generalized anxiety among Black adults.

Method: We used data from the cross-sectional Survey of the Health of Urban Residents (SHUR) in the United States (N = 623). Controlling for sociodemographic and health characteristics, we regressed depressed mood and generalized anxiety on police brutality. To assess whether heightened vigilance mediates the relationship between police brutality and mental health, we computed the direct effects of police brutality and indirect effects (through heightened vigilance) on depression and anxiety.

Results: Over half of the sample reported experiencing police brutality. Both police brutality and heightened vigilance were associated with depressed mood and generalized anxiety. Heightened vigilance explained 11% of the total effect of police brutality on depressed mood and 21% of the total effect of police brutality on generalized anxiety.

Conclusions: Police brutality is associated with negative mental health outcomes among Black people. As clinicians work to provide assessment, diagnosis, and treatment services, they should be aware that Black patients might face increased risk for depression and anxiety because of heightened vigilance and police brutality. Addressing how to manage these kinds of stressors is important, as is building a society where hypervigilance is unnecessary for the survival of Black people. Advocating for broad policy actions to reimagine policing is important for the mental health of Black adults.

Alang S, VanHook C, Judson J, Ikiroma A, & Adkins-Jackson PB. Police brutality, heightened vigilance, and the mental health of Black adults. Psychology of Violence, 2022; 12(4): 211-220. doi: 10.1037/vio0000418


  • Sirry Alang
  • Cortney VanHook
  • Jé Judson
  • Adalia Ikiroma
  • Paris B Adkins-Jackson


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