Black women who often encountered racism before age 20 have an increased risk of depression, new research shows.
Of the 1,600 Black women in Detroit, aged 25 to 35, who took part in the study, nearly two-thirds said they’d been subjected to some form of racism during adolescence, and more than one-third had symptoms of depression.
“Looking across the life course from adolescence through the 20s, Black women with persistently high frequency and high stress related to racism had the highest risk for depressive symptoms in adulthood than those with persistently low frequency,” said study co-author Anissa Vines. She is assistant professor of epidemiology in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Vines said the findings — recently published in the Journal of Urban Health — show how damaging racism is to the mental health of young people, and “echo what other researchers have been reporting on the implications of adverse childhood experiences on health in later life.”
Her team also examined whether the amount of social support that the study participants received in childhood and adulthood affected the link between racism and depression.
“Though we hypothesized the social support would buffer the effects of racism, we did not find evidence to support this,” Vines said in a university news release.
The data used in the study were collected between 2010 and 2012 — before more recent events that have brought overt acts of racism to the forefront of national attention in the United States.
The researchers also pointed out that the women faced a number of challenges, from Detroit’s eroding economy to high poverty rates and low educational attainment.
“The health of women living in Detroit cannot be separated from the erosion of their physical, emotional, social, economic and political environments,” the study authors explained.
Even so, they added, “the importance of early-life racism seen in this single geographic area may be broadly generalizable to young Black women in other geographical settings.”
The findings further highlight that racism is a public health crisis that requires urgent intervention, because it can cause lasting damage to the well-being of people of color, the study team concluded.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about racism and health.
SOURCE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, news release, Feb. 25, 2022
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