Impact of Discrimination Part 2: Stress Levels and Health Disparities

 

The American Psychological Association’s 2015 Stress in America Survey results are in, this year highlighting the impact of discrimination on various groups. We will be posting survey findings in a several-part series. You can also see the survey and related information in its entirety at http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/index.aspx.

Here is the second part of the series: Impact of Discrimination Part 2: Stress Levels and Health Disparities. Click here to see Part 1: Experiencing Discrimination

Stress

Regardless of the cause, experiencing discrimination is associated with higher reported stress and poorer reported health. While average reported stress levels in the United States have seen a slight increase in the past two years (5.1 in 2015 and 4.9 in 2014 on a 10-point scale, where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress”), some segments of the population are more likely to report experiencing higher average stress levels.

For many adults, dealing with discrimination results in a state of heightened vigilance and changes in behavior, which in itself can trigger stress responses — that is, even the anticipation of discrimination is sufficient to cause people to become stressed. AI/AN (American Indian/Alaskan Native) adults are most likely (43 percent) to take care about what they say and how they say it, as well as to avoid certain situations, to cope with day-to-day discrimination. Hispanic and Black adults (31 percent and 29 percent, respectively) are most likely to say they feel a need to take care with their appearance to get good service or avoid harassment. Many adults also report trying to prepare for possible insults from other people before leaving home (25 percent of AI/AN, 23 percent of Blacks, 21 percent of Hispanics and 15 percent of Asians and Whites).

Adults who are LGBT who have experienced discrimination have average stress levels of 6.4, compared to 6.0 for LGBT adults overall. Among adults who are non-LGBT, stress levels are 5.5 for those who have experienced discrimination and 5.0 for non-LGBT adults overall. This also is seen across racial groups: Average stress levels of those reporting discrimination (6.1 on a 10-point scale for Hispanics, 5.5 for Blacks and 5.4 for Whites) were higher than for those not reporting it (5.1 for Hispanics, 3.8 for Blacks and 4.0 for Whites).

Among generations, the discrimination/stress divide can be seen within the larger population of millennials.8 More than half of Asian millennials (51 percent) and 47 percent of Black millennials say that discrimination is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, compared to 31 percent of Hispanic and 26 percent of White millennials reporting the same.

More than one in 10 adults (13 percent) say they have been treated unfairly when receiving health care, and significantly more AI/AN adults (28 percent) report experiencing discrimination when receiving health care treatment.

Adults with disabilities are more likely than those without a disability to say discrimination is a somewhat or significant source of stress (26 percent vs. 18 percent).

Almost half of adults who did not report experiencing discrimination (45 percent) report excellent or very good health, compared to 31 percent who report experiencing discrimination. Forty-six percent of Whites who say they have not experienced discrimination report excellent/very good health, while only 34 percent of Whites who have experienced discrimination report excellent/very good health (Hispanics: 37 percent vs. 29 percent; Blacks: 32 percent vs. 28 percent, respectively).

Despite the stress, the majority of adults who report experiencing discrimination (59 percent) feel that they have dealt quite well or very well with it and any resulting changes or problems.

APA Stress in America

APA Stress in America

Younger adults are less likely than older generations to report having dealt well with discrimination. Sixty-one percent of boomers and 86 percent of matures report that they have dealt quite well or very well with having experienced discrimination and any resulting changes or problems, compared to about half of younger adults (51 percent of millennials and 53 percent of Gen Xers) saying the same.

Forty percent of adults who are LGBT say they have dealt quite well or very well with having experienced discrimination and any resulting changes or problems, while 60 percent of non-LGBT adults say the same.

Having emotional support appears to improve the way that individuals view their coping abilities with discrimination.  Sixty-five percent of adults overall who say they experienced discrimination and indicate that they had emotional support also say they coped quite or very well, compared to 37 percent of those who report not having emotional support.

Differences by racial and ethnic groups also reveal that higher percentages of those who say they experienced discrimination and indicate they had emotional support said they coped quite or very well, compared to those who report not having support. For Whites, 69 percent of those who say they experienced discrimination and indicate that they had emotional support report coping quite or very well, compared to 36 percent of those who report not having emotional support (Blacks: 63 percent vs. 30 percent; Hispanics: 54 percent vs. 38 percent).

All groups appear to do better when they have emotional support. Those who indicate that they did not have emotional support also report higher stress levels (6.3 average level on a 10-point scale compared to 5.0 for people with emotional support). Across population groups, average stress levels of those without support (6.8 for Hispanics, 6.3 for Blacks and 6.2 for Whites) were higher than for those with emotional support (5.7 for Hispanics, 5.1 for Blacks and 4.9 for Whites).