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The Mental Toll of Discrimination on Health

The Mental Toll of Discrimination on Health
May 19
00:34 2016

Discrimination is still a major problem today, despite the excessive amount of time spent discussing it. Not only has it been proven to affect individuals economically and physically, but research shows that victims of discrimination are experiencing long-lasting mental wounds.

“We now have decades of research showing that when people are chronically treated differently, unfairly or badly, it can have effects ranging from low self-esteem to a higher risk for developing stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression,” said Vickie Mays, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor in the department of health policy and management. “For example, it can affect parenting — a depressed mom might not be able to interact with her child in a way that best promotes that child’s development, leaving the child more vulnerable to certain behavioral disorders. In that sense, we all suffer from the effects of discrimination.”

Being treated poorly based on your race, gender, or sexual preference would make anyone feel sadness or anxiety, but being a victim of discrimination can also have its long-term consequences. According to studies done on Asian Americans, African Americans, Latino and other races, there was a consistent link between discrimination and an increased risk of mental illness, along with alcohol and drug abuse.

Not to mention, one act of discrimination can affect not just the victim, but also others around them, whether its family or not.

With this problem still very much alive and well, what needs to be done to help individuals who suffer from this abuse? Besides more policies promoting human rights, Mays recommends introducing more questions regarding discrimination when screening patients. “We screen for mental health disorders when we are putting together an individual’s electronic health record, but maybe we also need to ask about their experiences with discrimination, which would identify people at risk who could benefit from prevention efforts,” said Mays. “And among patients who experience high levels of discrimination, we need to be concerned with the potential for distrust of the health care provider. It could be that if we want better health care outcomes, we should allow these patients to know more about the provider they are selecting to ensure it’s someone they are comfortable with.”

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Kerri Adams

Kerri Adams

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