Discrimination increases the risk of young adults developing behavioral and mental health problems, new research examining a decade worth of data has found. The effect is cumulative, meaning that the greater the number of incidents of discrimination experienced, the higher the risk.
Reported in the journal Pediatrics, the study also found that the effect of discrimination is closely linked to inequalities when it comes to health care itself – in particular, disparity of care, inequity in diagnoses, and the great difference in treatment leading to worse health outcomes for those who are being discriminated against. The paper's video abstract can be found here.
The data was collected between 2007 and 2017 on a group of 1,834 Americans who were between 18 and 28 years old at the beginning of the study. This was part of the Transition to Adulthood Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics survey.
About 93 percent of all the people interviewed report having experienced discrimination, the most common factors were age (26 percent), physical appearance (19 percent), sex (14 percent), and race (13 percent).
“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,” corresponding author Yvonne Lei, a medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said in a statement.
The study found that participants that experienced discrimination incidents a few times per month or more were 25 percent more likely to be diagnosed with mental illnesses, and twice more likely to develop severe psychological distress. People that experienced multiple successive years of high-frequency discrimination showed a higher risk for mental illness, psychological distress, drug use, and worse overall health.
“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,” added the study’s senior author, Dr Adam Schickedanz, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Geffen School of Medicine.
The decade investigated was marked by the 2008 economic crisis that made millennials the first generation to be financially worse off than the previous one. The crisis, described for years as a once-in-a-lifetime event, is now repeating itself as a consequence of the pandemic just 12 years later.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront new mental health challenges – particularly for vulnerable populations,” Lei said. “We have the opportunity to rethink and improve mental health services to acknowledge the impact of discrimination, so we can better address it to provide more equitable care delivery.”