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Discrimination Contributes to Mental Health Woes in Black Teens

Discrimination Contributes to Mental Health Woes in Black TeensThe vast majority of black teens face racial discrimination, and these experiences are associated with an increased risk of mental health problems, according to a new study.

“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

Afro-Caribbean teenager racing against other white teenagers photo by shutterstock.

Discrimination Contributes to Mental Health Woes in Black Teens

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Discrimination Contributes to Mental Health Woes in Black Teens. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 4 May 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.