“Sixty years after Brown vs. Board of Education, racism remains a toxic stressor commonly experienced by youth of color,” said Lee M. Pachter, D.O., a professor of pediatrics at Drexel University College of Medicine and chief of general pediatrics at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.
“The fact that these experiences are encountered during adolescence — a critically sensitive period for identity development — is of great concern, as is our finding of slightly higher rates of depression, anxiety, and social phobias in those youth who have more experiences with discrimination.”
For the study, which was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the researchers analyzed data from the National Survey of American Life, which examines racial, ethnic, and cultural influences on the mental health of African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans.
Interviews were conducted with a nationally representative sample of 1,170 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17.
The study looked at the experiences of black youth of Caribbean ancestry and ethnicity separate from African-American youth, Pachter pointed out.
“Because of differences in culture, pre- and post-immigration experiences, and other factors, it is important to differentiate groups that generally are lumped together as “black” in the same way that Latinos are separated into subgroups, such as Mexican American, Puerto Rican, and Cuban,” he noted.
The survey found that 85 percent of the adolescents experienced racial discrimination. During their lifetime, six percent experienced major depression, 17 percent suffered from anxiety, while 13 percent had social phobia. In the year before they were surveyed, four percent of teens had major depression, and 14 percent experienced anxiety, the researcher reported.
More experiences with discrimination was associated with a higher likelihood of major depression, anxiety disorder, and social phobia during one’s lifetime, according to the study’s findings.
These associations were present for both African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans, for males and females, and for younger and older teens, the study found.
Results also showed that increasing levels of racial discrimination had a greater effect on Afro-Caribbean youth, who experienced higher rates of anxiety than African-American teens, the researcher noted.
“The challenge now is to identify interventions at the individual, family and community levels to lessen the mental health effects of racial discrimination while we as a society grapple with ways to eliminate it as a toxic stressor,” Pachter concluded.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics