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Discrimination Tied to Mental Health Problems for Black Teens

Update Date: May 03, 2014 10:40 AM EDT

Discrimination, whether it is related to race, sex or age, can have a negative impact on people's mental health regardless of age. In a new study, researchers focused specifically on the effects of discrimination on the mental health of African-American and Afro-Caribbean teenagers. They found that when this group of adolescents was exposed to racial discrimination, they had a greater chance of developing mental health problems.

"Our study looked at the relationships between perceived racial discrimination (racism) and various mental health issues. We wanted to see if African-American and Afro-Caribbean teenagers who experienced racial discrimination have higher rates of depression, anxiety or social phobia," said lead author Dr. Lee M. Pachter, D.O., FAAP, professor of pediatrics at Drexel University College of Medicine and chief of general pediatrics at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

For this study, the researchers examined data collected by the National Survey of American Life. The survey interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,170 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17. 1,017 of them were African-Americans and 137 were Afro-Caribbeans. The interview assessed the effects of racial, ethnic and cultural influences on the mental health of the children.

The researchers discovered that 85 percent of the teens had experienced racial discrimination. Within their lifetime, six percent reported having major depression, 17 percent had anxiety issues and 13 percent suffered from social phobia. When the researchers looked at the rates within the past year of the interview they found that four percent had major depression and 14 percent had anxiety.

"Sixty years after Brown vs. Board of Education, racism remains a toxic stressor commonly experienced by youth of color," said Dr. Pachter according to the press release. "The fact that these experiences are encountered during adolescence - a critically sensitive period for identity development - is of great concern, as is our finding of slightly higher rates of depression, anxiety and social phobias in those youth who have more experiences with discrimination."

The study's findings were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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