Racial Discrimination Linked with Worse Mental Health

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Facing racial discrimination has been shown to increase depression among African Americans in particular.
Facing racial discrimination has been shown to increase depression among African Americans in particular.

Discrimination has been linked with negative health outcomes among racial minorities, including increased rates of mental health problems such as panic attacks1, generalized anxiety disorder2, depression3 and suicidal ideation4.

“Racial discrimination is a type of chronic stress that leads to both psychological and physiological stress responses and, as such, contributes to the disease process that results in negative physical and mental health outcomes for those who experience it,” Devin English, MPhil, a clinical psychology doctoral student at George Washington University in Washington, DC, told Psychiatry Advisor.

Multiple new studies confirm the link between discrimination and depression among African Americans in particular and offer a more robust understanding of potential mechanisms and nuances of the association. As reported in the April 2015 issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, researchers at the University of Georgia collected self-report data from 222 African American males at five different time points between the ages of 16 and twenty.3 Their findings show that exposure to “racial discrimination from ages 16 to 18 predicted depressive symptoms at age 20, net of confounding influences,” as their paper states.

Another longitudinal study investigated the link between exposure to discrimination and depressive symptoms among 504 African American male and female adolescents from grades seven to ten.5 Co-author English and colleagues determined that “experienced racial discrimination was positively associated with depressive symptoms 1 year later across all waves of measurement.”

Additionally, a study published in April in the American Journal of Public Health found that increased incidents of racism predicted worse mental health for black residents from two predominantly black New York City neighborhoods at all three time points of the one-year study.6

“We find a direct relationship, and because the analyses were longitudinal, we have more confidence in the causal nature of the relationship,” study co-author Naa Oyo A. Kwate, PhD, an associate professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told Psychiatry Advisor. “Experiences with racism are stressors, and are chronic, unpredictable and uncontrollable — the worst kind of stress.” 

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