UT study finds discrimination can increase mental health issues

Nidia Cavazos

A researcher in the School of Social Work found that discrimination of multiple types experienced by African Americans and Caribbean blacks on a daily basis can increase the risk for mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol abuse.

The research — co-authored by Christopher Salas-Wright, a social work assistant professor —  was published in the August 2014 edition of “Addictive Behaviors.” The study compared the presence and severity of mental disorders in African-American, Caribbean black and non-Hispanic white populations in the United States. The research was based on the experiences of 4,400 respondents, ages 18-65, and their everyday discrimination.

The study showed 83 percent of the respondents reported experiencing discrimination over the past year. Those who encountered multiple types of prejudicial discrimination were two-and-a-half times more likely to develop addictive behaviors related to alcohol or drugs, and those who experienced it on a weekly or even monthly basis were four times more likely to develop addiction and behavioral problems.

Trenette Clark, social work assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led the study, along with co-authors Keith Whitfield, Duke University psychology and neuroscience professor, and Michael G. Vaughn, Saint Louis University social work professor.

One of the main focuses of the study was the identification of the different categories of discrimination that can lead to depressive and anxiety disorders as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

Salas-Wright said it is the combination of disrespect and condescension discrimination, along with character-based and hostile treatment, that puts African Americans and Caribbean blacks at a greater risk for mental disorders.

“The different types of discrimination that people were experiencing translated into different health outcomes,” Salas-Wright said. “People who just experienced condescension didn’t have the same health outcome as those who had more hostile forms of discrimination.”

Noël Busch-Armendariz, School of Social Work associate dean for research, said the research is relevant to society.

“[The findings] tell us that racism is part of the everyday lives of a significant number of Americans and that this has significant negative consequences,” Busch-Armendariz said. “Perhaps more importantly, this research opens the discussion about our collective responsibility and points to the need to move forward more quickly to rectify this persistent and demoralizing social issue in our country.”

This study was introduced to history professor Leonard Moore, who related it to micro-aggression.

“Micro-aggression [is] everyday aggression African Americans feel even at a work place and school that serves to remind us of our race,” Moore said.