CORNELL (US)—A new study from Cornell University finds racial discrimination in the United States “is a ubiquitous experience” in the lives of African Americans, and shows how and to what extent that discrimination erodes mental health.
Chronic exposure to racial discrimination and an accumulation of daily negative events combine to place African Americans at greater risk for daily symptoms of depression, anxiety and negative moods, says Anthony Ong, assistant professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.
“Individuals who are exposed to more daily stress end up having fewer resources to cope with them,” adds Ong.
The study was conducted with Cornell graduate student Thomas Fuller-Rowell and Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of psychology at Loyola University-Chicago, and is published in the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The researchers examined the ways that chronic discrimination exerts a direct influence on daily mental health and an indirect influence through daily stress by analyzing questionnaires from 174 African Americans for 14 days. Participants answered questions daily about the frequency of racially stressful encounters, mental health symptoms, mood, and stressors across life domains.
“What we found was that it is the daily discrimination and daily stress that are driving the psychological distress,” Ong says.
Because the stressors experienced by African Americans tend to feed and expand on each other, Ong emphasizes that any intervention must cast a wide net.
“It is not enough that interventions target one problem,” Ong notes, “even if it appears to be a serious stressor, when there might be multiple hardships and demands that are instrumental in structuring people’s daily lives. Chronic exposure to racial discrimination provides a poignant illustration of the proliferation of stress stemming from repeated discriminatory experiences.”
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