Responses to Discrimination and Psychiatric Disorders Among Black, Hispanic, Female, and Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Individuals

People who believed they experienced discrimination in the past year due to race/ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation are much more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorder, according to this study of nationally-representative U.S. data. How people react to discrimination appears to also have a relationship to their mental health.

The data comes from a 2004-2005 population-based epidemiological survey of mood, anxiety and substance conditions among civilian, noninstitutionalized U.S. adults. Of the 34,653 respondents, aged 20-90 years old, 6,587 were Black, 6,369 were Hispanic, 20,089 were women and 577 were gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Key Findings:

  • People who believed they suffered discrimination in the past year were two to three times more likely to suffer from some psychiatric disorder, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation.
  • There was no unique association with particular disorders; discrimination may be a global risk factor for psychopathology.
  • Generally, people who did not talk with others about the discrimination, whether or not they had confronted or accepted the incidences, were more likely to have mental health issues than those who shared the experience. This may be the impact of suffering stress from discrimination without interpersonal support.

The authors acknowledge their work does not confirm whether discrimination leads to mental health issues or whether persons with mental illness are more likely to perceive discrimination; they call for further research to address this question specifically. They believe, however, there is enough consistency in their findings across disorders and population groups, as well as in research by others, to suggest the former. Their findings regarding discrimination, and the consequences of how people respond to it, indicate mental health interventions should focus on helping people to cope and specifically, to discuss their experiences with others.