Discrimination Equals Depression in High-Income Black Youth

Higher levels of parental education, which generally correlate with higher family incomes, are a buffer against depression for white teens and young adults, but discrimination erases that benefit for black teens and young adults from families with higher socioeconomic status.

The impact of discrimination on the mental health and well-being of black youth was revealed in a new study conducted at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. The researchers reviewed nine years of data from a suburban school district that focused on the causes of depression in young people.

Using information from the Princeton School District study, lead author Elizabeth Goodman, M.D., found that “higher parental education is a double-edged sword for young black Americans, buffering against the development of depression but also leading to increased discrimination, which in and of itself causes depression. Overall, the protective effects of high parent education levels are zeroed out by the negative effects of increased discrimination experienced because of that high socioeconomic status,” Goodman explained in a MassGeneral interview.

Drawing on a Midwestern school district, Goodman and her colleagues followed a multiracial group of 545 fifth-to-12th graders, selected in 2001, until they were 21–25 years old.

The study participants were surveyed to assess experiences with discrimination and depressive symptoms. Well-established research methods were used to validate their responses.

The 296 non-Hispanic white participants reported that their lifetime experiences with any type of discrimination decreased as their parents’ level of education increased. But the 249 non-Hispanic black teens and young adults reported more consistent experiences with discrimination over their lifespan in general, no matter what level of education their parents had achieved.

In addition, the findings for black youth were much more complex. Black study participants whose parents had a high school diploma and some vocational training reported less discrimination than young blacks whose parents had less than a high school diploma.

But black children whose parents had advanced or professional degrees reported the highest level of discrimination of all of the groups studied — almost twice as high as white young adults from similarly educated families and 1.2 times higher than black participants whose parents had a high school education or less.

“Among all participants, whether black or white, we found that the more discrimination young adults reported feeling, the more likely they were to report symptoms of depression,” reported study author Erika Cheng, Ph.D. “Taken together, our findings suggest that high socioeconomic status black young adults — who typically might not be thought of as being at increased risk for discrimination and depression — are actually at risk for both.”

The study did not uncover exact reasons for the higher levels of discrimination faced by high-income black youth, but the researchers suggested that black children from high-income families were more likely to live in or attend school in predominantly white communities where they are made to feel uncomfortable. In addition, higher parental income and education status did not protect black youth from being followed around stores or disproportionately targeted by police.

The study alerts parents to the fact that even black children privileged, in terms of education or income, may be at risk for depression and may need lots of emotional support.

Avoiding Holiday Allergy Triggers

(Photo: Siri Stafford/GettyImages)

(Photo: Siri Stafford/GettyImages)

Holiday trimmings can be a surprising source of allergy outbreaks for people sensitive to mold, strong perfumes and pollen. To breathe easier this December, allergy expert Rachna Shah, M.D., from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine offers this advice:

  • Spray live trees with water to remove invisible molds before bringing them indoors and do not keep them for more than 12 days.
  • Change standing water in tree stands, another source of fungus.
  • Buy silk poinsettias, instead of the real thing, to avoid raising indoor pollen levels.
  • Store ornaments in plastic tubs to avoid moldy, dusty boxes when you unpack them each year.