A study published in Quality of Life Research explored the relationship between health and self-reported racial discrimination among adults living in New York City. Among those who reported experiencing racial discrimination, more frequent social contact was associated with a decreased likelihood of suffering poor mental health.
Scientific research has linked exposure to racial discrimination to adverse health outcomes, including obesity, asthma, poor mental health, and mortality. A new study by Genevieve Bergeron and her team aimed to uncover whether social relationships might decrease a person’s likelihood of suffering these negative health consequences.
“Exploring the moderating effect of social relationships on racial discrimination and health-related outcomes is of particular interest because it represents a modifiable behavior amenable to public health intervention,” Bergeron and colleagues say.
Researchers analyzed data from the 2017 NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) Social Determinants of Health (SDH) survey. The study interviewed 2,335 adults living in New York City who were categorized as either White, Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, or other/multi-race. Participants were asked if they had experienced interpersonal discrimination due to their race, ethnicity, or color in the following nine domains: at work, at school, in a public setting, in court or by the police, when being served in a store/restaurant, when applying for a job, while accessing housing, while accessing healthcare, or when receiving financial services.
Participants were additionally asked to rate whether their general health was “very good”, “good”, “fair”, or “poor.” They then indicated the number of days out of the past 30 when their mental health was “not good”, when their physical health was “not good”, and when their physical or mental health had interfered with their regular activities. Subjects’ social contact was assessed by asking them how often in the past 30 days they had met up with at least one family member or friend. A few times a month or less was considered low-frequency social contact and once a week or more was considered high-frequency social contact.
Prevalence of racial discrimination was high, with 47% of respondents reporting experiencing racial discrimination in at least one of the nine domains. As was expected, ethnicity had an impact on the likelihood of experiencing racial discrimination. Sixty-five percent of Blacks, 52% of Asian/Pacific Islanders, 52% of Latinos, and 29% of Whites reported suffering racial discrimination.
There was no significant association between exposure to racial discrimination and participants’ self-reported general health. However, when compared to those who reported no racial discrimination, those who experienced racial discrimination in three or more domains reported 1.4 more days (in the last 30 days) when their physical health was not good and 1.6 more days when their mental health was not good. They also reported 1.7 more days when their regular activities were affected by their mental or physical health.
Next, the results uncovered a link between social contact and the likelihood of experiencing poor mental health among those experiencing racial discrimination.
“Among those exposed to racial discrimination, the likelihood for experiencing poor mental health was lower among those who had contact with family or friends outside their household at least once a week, compared with those who had less frequent social contact (p= 0.009),” the authors report.
Among limitations, Bergeron and colleagues express that their study cannot account for differences in the way individuals perceive and report racial discrimination. It could be that some minimize their experiences, while others are more observant. Furthermore, it is not known whether reports of racial discrimination from Whites can be compared to racial discrimination reported by minority groups.
The study, “Association between racial discrimination and health-related quality of life and the impact of social relationships”, was authored by Genevieve Bergeron, Nneka Lundy De La Cruz, L. Hannah Gould, Sze Yan Liu, and Amber Levanon Seligson.