Discrimination puts young adults at risk for mental health issues, study says – USA TODAY

December 8, 2021 by No Comments

Young adults experiencing discrimination are more likely to develop mental health issues, according to a new study out of UCLA.
Researchers also found that the more discrimination young adults faced, the more mental health issues they developed.
The research looked at data from 1,834 Americans between the ages of 18 and 28. The most common types of discrimination were age (26%), physical appearance (19%), sex (14%) and race (13%). 
The study was published Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics.
About 93% of the people in the study reported experiencing discrimination, and the people who experienced discrimination a few times a month were roughly 25% more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness and twice as likely to develop severe psychological distress than those who had not experienced discrimination or had experienced it a few times per year or less.
“One of the biggest things we learned from this study was that the strength of the association between discrimination and the host of health outcomes we looked at was similar across types of discrimination. This is consistent with other evidence on early life adversity suggesting that there is a common pathway through which different types of stress impact health, especially mental health,” Dr. Adam Schickedanz, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told USA TODAY.
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Kendell Coker, associate professor in the psychology department at the University of New Haven, said while treating minority patients, he’s noticed how the effects of discrimination change from adolescents to young adults, who are the focus of the study.
“When you’re 2 years old, it’s OK to kick and scream,” says Coker. “Then as you get older, there’s more socially appropriate ways to express what you’re feeling.”
Frustration toward discrimination manifests as anger or behavioral issues in children, Coker says, but later may be  expressed through depression or substance abuse, which could explain the increase in mental health issues among 18- to 28-year-olds in the study.
Discrimination also plays a more direct role in the actual mental health care experience, the study says.
“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,” Schickedanz said in a statement by UCLA.
As a practicing clinical psychologist, Coker points out the difficulties about providing care for people facing discrimination.
“We’re taught to help individuals, but how do you help someone deal with something that you have no control over?” he says.
Coker says larger policy initiatives to tackle discrimination need to be made now that discrimination’s effect on mental health has been highlighted in numerous studies.
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Given that the study was observational and not in a controlled setting, the link between discrimination and mental health is based on correlation, not direct causation.
“Of course, there’s no way to do a controlled experiment in which people are exposed to different levels of discrimination over a decade and the impacts are observed like in a randomized trial, so we used a number of techniques to account for confounding factors in the unique longitudinal data available,” Schickedanz says.
He added that the fact the study ran for so many years helped remove some potential confounding variables, and they controlled for factors like income, poverty, educational attainment and lack of access to health care.
“Our study adds more detail to our collective understanding of how various types of experiences of discrimination impact mental and behavioral health over the life course, and how early in life the impacts are felt. This opens the door for intervention to interrupt the impact of discrimination in early adulthood,” Schickedanz says.
You can reach the author @michelle_shen10 on Twitter. 

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