The National Survey of American Life: Coping with Stress in the 21st Century (NSAL) was an ambitious project undertaken by the Program for Research on Black Americans at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. The NSAL was developed under sponsorship of the National Institute of Mental Health as part of the National Institute of Mental Health Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Surveys (CPES) initiative that includes 3 nationally representative surveys: the NSAL, the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), and the National Latino and Asian American Study (NLAAS).
The primary goal of the NSAL was to gather data about the physical, emotional, mental, structural, and economic conditions of Black Americans at the beginning of the new century. The PRBA hopes that the information gathered will contribute to more consistent improvements in the quality of life for Black Americans and aid in reversing the deterioration that has occurred over the prior two decades (see significance section).
Interviews occurred throughout the United States in urban and rural centers of the country where significant numbers of Black Americans reside. A total of 6,082 face-to-face interviews were conducted with persons aged 18 or older, 3,570 African Americans, 891 non-Hispanic whites, and, for the first time in a national survey, 1,621 Black respondents of Caribbean descent. The survey included state-of-the-art assessments of psychological distress and mental disorders and questions about neighborhood characteristics, religion, health and work.
Interviews were also taken with approximately 1,170 adolescents (persons aged 13-17) using a similar questionnaire. One of the parents or guardians of the adolescent was also asked to complete a separate paper questionnaire about the adolescent at the same time that the adolescent interview was being conducted.
In addition, over 10% (N = 677) of the NSAL adult respondents were re-interviewed using a modified version of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID) and various severity scales in order to examine concordance between the lay-administered DSM-IV World Mental Health CIDI (WMH-CIDI) diagnoses and those assessed via the SCID. Results from this study will shed light on the nature of CIDI diagnoses among members of different race/ethnic groups.
Data from the NSAL, NLAAS, NCS-R and CPES adult surveys are now available through the Inter-University Corsortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan.
Though the 20th century saw structural, social and economic improvements, today African Americans on average remain worse off than the general population on almost every important social indicator – infant mortality, crude death rates, health care, wealth and income, housing and poverty. This is especially important as the African American population, along with the population overall, ages. As African Americans live longer, adverse economic and health conditions throughout the lifespan become exacerbated. The failure to gain educational and related social and material resources continues to have a profound effect on the ability of African Americans to capitalize upon changes in the economy or to respond to other social and legal opportunities that become available.
The data collected through NSAL will be invaluable in providing a social scientific and policy base for understanding and addressing the status and circumstances of the African American population. It is our expectation that these data will shed light on the situation of African Americans as we move into a new and more socially, politically, and economically complex century.