A new study has found a link between racism and discrimination experienced in early adulthood and mental health problems that develop later in life, suggesting the two may be very closely related. Even more disturbing: the impact of racism appears to be cumulative, with young adults experiencing the greatest levels of discrimination more likely to face future mental health problems.
NPR’s Joe Hernandez reported that “the UCLA study, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at health data for 1,834 Americans who were between the ages of 18 and 28 when the study started. The authors said it was the first time researchers had probed the effects of discrimination on the same group of young people during their transition to adulthood.”
In a statement, Yvonne Lei, a medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine and co-author of the study, said, “with 75% of all lifetime mental health disorders presenting by age 24, the transition to adulthood is a crucial time to prevent mental and behavioral health problems.”
The UCLA research also suggested that “people who faced any discrimination had a 26% greater risk of poor health than those who said they hadn’t faced any.”
The report also revealed that young people experiencing frequent discrimination (categorized as racism occurring at least several times per month) were approximately 25% more likely to be diagnosed with mental health issues later in life and twice as likely to develop severe psychological stress compared to those who experienced little or no discrimination on a regular basis.
Dr. Adam Schickedanz, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Geffen School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, elaborated on the findings, saying, “the associations we found are likely also intertwined with mental health care service disparities — including inequities in care access, provider biases and structural and institutional discrimination in health care — leading to inequities in diagnoses, treatment and outcomes.”
The UCLA research was based on data extracted from the University of Michigan’s Transition to Adulthood Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics survey, the world’s longest-running nationally representative panel survey of racism and discrimination in America. That study began in 1968 and has involved reoccurring interviews and surveys of more than 18,000 individuals from more than 5,000 families across the nation.
Throughout the 50-year study, researchers have found that more than 93% of the people of color involved in the study have experienced at least some form of discrimination over the course of their life.