The Discrimination Penalty

A study released this week by UCLA is ALL OVER THE PLACE. Why does the media care so much? Why should you care so much? We now know the statistical likelihood of serious mental health complications for victims of discrimination.

Over 10 years, from 2007 to 2017, researchers gathered data showing young adults aged 18-28 with histories of consistent discrimination are at a 25% higher risk for worse mental health and overall health.

I want to focus on racism here, but the study doesn’t differentiate between types of discrimination. Sexism, homophobia and fat shaming, for example, all produce the same effect. And surprisingly duration isn’t important. The necessary quality is frequency: intense degradation happens on a consistent, regular basis. It could be years or months–it doesn’t matter.

Racism and Mental Health

We’ve been hearing the term microaggression frequently these days. It’s a very important addition to the vernacular because it pinpoints the manner in which racism is often communicated. Generations of discriminatory practices have gone unnoticed because offenders use seemingly benign, normalized behavior to inflict harm. So if events like church bombings or lynchings are what’s coming to mind, I suggest a redirection towards more everyday occurrences, like mainstream use of the word “ghetto” to describe something as bad.

I wasn’t surprised to see that researchers found racist discrimination’s damage went beyond the derogatory encounters. Racism was shown to be connected with disparities in mental health care, as well. Many mental health advocates highlight time and time again that the country’s public health systems leave people with few options to access culturally responsive treatment.

What’s Not Being Done About It

Instead of addressing these discrepancies by investing in communities of color, clinics working to fill these gaps remain severely underfunded. In a 2018 study by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and the Cohen Veterans Network, several participants cited exorbitant costs and said the government should do more to fund Black mental health services. Only 2% of American Psychology Association members are Black but tangible incentives for people of color to enter the field are non-existent. We also know that Black people with mental health needs are less likely to get treatment than white people but more likely to get diagnosed Schizophrenic. UCLA’s study also found that “feelings of mistrust and stigma or perceptions of racism” sometimes prevent Black young adults from seeking care.

This is an American problem of great proportions. We know how destructive discrimination is to the human mind and we know where the deficits exist. The question going forward is, who is willing to do something about it?

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