Discrimination Impacts Depression, Prosocial Behavior in Latino Youth

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Latino youth who are discriminated against are more depressed and less likely to help others, according to research published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

While discrimination has been a frequent topic of discussion in the United States, little is known about its effect on mental health and subsequent altruistic behaviors. Now, research from Alexandra Davis, a doctoral candidate from the Department of Human Development and Family Science at the University of Missouri, and colleagues has found that discrimination can start a cycle of depression and less altruistic behavior.

“It’s important to consider that experiencing discrimination starts to wear on cognitive and emotional resources that youth may have, which can lead to symptoms of depression, sadness and withdrawal,” said Davis. “Once they are experiencing these withdrawal symptoms, it becomes harder for them to engage in selfless forms of helping because they have [fewer] resources available to give to others, and it works both ways. Experiencing discrimination and becoming more withdrawn and less engaged in helping behaviors, in turn, might contribute to depressive symptoms. It can become a cycle.”

The researchers studied questionnaires from 302 Latino immigrants between the ages of 13 and 17 who had lived in the United States for 5 years or less, examining the connections between discrimination experiences, mental health, and prosocial behaviors.

“The reports youth provided on discrimination are not necessarily experiences that have accumulated over a long period of time,” said Gustavo Carlo, PhD, Millsap Professor of Diversity and Multicultural Studies in MU’s College of Human Environmental Sciences. “This perceived discrimination over a short period of time is already having a significant impact on their mental health and their social functioning. We can only imagine what the effects of discrimination may be like over a longer period of time.”

The researchers note that it is important to be aware of how youth from marginalized groups perceive discrimination because it undermines positive social behaviors towards others. Interaction with peers during this age is also important, and isolation can negatively impact their health and long-term well-being.

Davis added that accessible mental health services and trained professionals could help buffer these youth against depressive symptoms.

Discrimination Impacts Depression, Prosocial Behavior in Latino Youth
Discrimination can create a cycle of depression and fewer prosocial behaviors.

Recent conversations in the United States have centered on discrimination issues; yet, little is known about how discrimination affects youths' mental health and their willingness to help others. Now, University of Missouri researchers found Latino immigrant youth who reported feeling discriminated against had more depressive symptoms and were less likely to perform altruistic behaviors six months and a year after experiencing discrimination.

For the study, 302 Latino immigrants between the ages of 13 and 17 completed three questionnaires over the course of a year about discrimination experiences, mental health and prosocial behaviors, such as volunteering or helping others. The youth had lived in the United States for five years or less. The study controlled for the teens' previous levels of depression and involvement in helping behaviors in order to observe changes over time.

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