International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Differential treatment causes mental health problems - Sovereign Health Group
Articles / Blog
03-21-17 Category: Mental Health

Observed worldwide on March 21 each year, the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination aims to remind people about negative consequences of racial discrimination. It encourages people to remember their obligation and determination to combat discrimination in all forms.

In the United States too, discrimination based on race and ethnicity continues to be a big problem for the society at large. While such injustice has led to economic inequalities, it has also contributed to a host of mental health problems. Among racial minorities, discrimination has been linked with negative health consequences including increased rates of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks, among others.

“We now have decades of research showing that when people are chronically treated differently, unfairly or badly, it can have effects ranging from low self-esteem to a higher risk for developing stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression,” says Vickie Mays, the director of the UCLA Center for Research, Education, Training and Strategic Communication on Minority Health Disparities. He said that mental health of one person could have a domino effect on the health of other individuals. As per Mays, a coordinated public health effort is needed to integrate what is known about the outcomes of discrimination into health care profiles.

Racial discrimination and depression

Multiple studies confirm the link between racial discrimination and depression. For a 2015 study conducted by the University of Georgia, researchers collected self-report data from 222 African American males at five different time points (between ages of 16 and 20 years). According to the findings, the exposure to racial discrimination from ages 16 to 18 predicted depressive symptoms at age 20.

As compared to their white counterparts, black communities have historically experienced more structural barriers to health care. In addition, African-Americans are also at a higher risk of reduced health literacy. Even if they are able to access health care, they may face the challenge of being treated by a health care professional whose racial bias prevents good communication and quality care. According to another 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, primary care physicians who possessed subconscious racial bias were more likely to dominate conversations with patients of the African-American descent and leave them feeling uninvolved when it came to health-related decisions. The result was that patients who felt unheard and unsupported were less likely to return for a follow-up or receive care.

A meta-analysis appeared in Sep. 2015 in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS), which examined literature focusing on the relationship between racism and, mental and physical health outcomes. The analysis examined data from 293 studies that were reported in 333 articles published between 1983 and 2013, and conducted predominately in the U.S.

Racism was associated with poorer mental health including depression, anxiety, psychological stress and various other outcomes. It was also associated with poorer general and physical health. As compared with African-American participants, the meta-analysis found a stronger association between racism and negative mental health for Asian-American and Latino-American participants.

Racism hurts

Racism is detrimental to an individual’s mental and physical health as repeated exposure leads to a heightened sense of fear and anxiety among its victims. In addition to causing a host of physical and mental health illnesses, racial discrimination can also create barriers to accessing quality care. Victims of racial discrimination are more at risk of living through social determinants or conditions in their environment that might make it harder to seek medical care.

A study by researchers from the University of Manchester, England, highlights the damaging impact of repeated racial discrimination on mental and physical health of ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom. The study published in the American Journal of Public Health in July 2016 analyzed the cumulative impact of racial abuse over a period of five years — from 2009 to 2013.

As per the researchers, there was a significant increase in mental health issues affecting ethnic minorities that were subjected to recurring incidents of racism. It also concluded that fear of avoiding spaces and feeling unsafe due to racial discrimination had the biggest collective effect on mental health of ethnic minorities.

Ethnic-racial identity among youth

While developing an ethnic-racial identity is an important task for young people growing up in the U.S., a new study, published in the journal Child Development, examined a mental health promotion intervention program called the “Identity Project” that engages the American youth in exploring and resolving issues around their ethnic and racial identities.

The study trial sought to determine whether the project intervention would boost adolescents’ exploration and resolution of ethnic-racial identity. The research, conducted at the Arizona State University, found the program to help promote key developmental constructs that could enhance the positive development of the youth from a range of backgrounds.

Racism and PTSD

Racism within society can cause avoidable and unfair inequalities and reduce access to employment, housing and education, negatively impact cognitive or emotional processes, and increase engagement in unhealthy behaviors.

A 2015 study by the University of Lethbridge examined the association between racial discrimination and drug problems among urban-based Aboriginal adults in Canada and whether those associations were best explained by symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study suggested that Aboriginal people who were routinely subjected to racism might experience symptoms of PTSD. It also suggested that repeated racism might play a role in prescription drug abuse. As per Dr. Cheryl Currie, the lead researcher, individuals facing discrimination may respond in ways extending beyond their psychological control. Currie said those affected by routine racism might use prescription drugs to cope with their symptoms.

While efforts to address Aboriginal health inequities in Canada mostly focus on the role Aboriginal people play in these disparities, the findings show that non-Aboriginal Canadians may also play a role in the health inequities observed. The study also highlighted that efforts to reduce discrimination experienced by Aboriginal adults in cities may reduce PTSD symptoms and prescription drug abuse in these populations.

Road to recovery

Various studies show that people undergoing racial discrimination can suffer from a host of mental illnesses. The Sovereign Health provides treatments for all kinds of mental health disorders, including any underlying health condition that one may have. We offer a variety of mental health treatment programs customized as per a patient’s requirements.

Besides traditional therapies, patients can opt for individual and group psychotherapy or alternative therapeutic activities to regain control of their lives. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-629-0442 or chat online with our representatives to know about our finest mental illness treatment centers across the U.S. Our residential mental health facilities in California are among the best in the nation.

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