Discrimination has damaged the mental health of racial and ethnic minority groups during the COVID-19 pandemic
BOSTON – The daily discrimination experienced by people from racial and ethnic minority groups during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with a significantly increased likelihood of moderate to severe depression and suicidal thoughts, researchers found from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and their colleagues. found.
In a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, the team reported that the greater the discrimination, the more pronounced the depressive symptoms.
Associations with depression during the pandemic were highest among Hispanic/Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander participants when the primary reason for discrimination was based on race, ancestry, or national origin.
“Previous studies have documented the adverse health effects of discrimination, but we were surprised at the magnitude of the effect on the mental health and quality of life of people who often had to deal with intolerance. in their daily lives,” says Jordan Smoller, MD, ScD, associate chief of research in the MGH’s Department of Psychiatry.
“In fact, at high levels of daily discrimination, the association with moderate to severe depressive symptoms was similar to the effect of having a pre-pandemic mood disorder diagnosis, which is quite dramatic.”
For communities that regularly face structural racism — including Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian/Pacific Islander people — the pandemic has been a particularly stressful time, given higher unemployment rates, insecurity food and housing, limited access to health care and even racial motivations. violence.
Based on NIH All of us Research Program, a highly diverse database that fuels research in a host of health areas (including mental health), the MGH team probed the consequences of discrimination at the start of the pandemic period in among a cohort of nearly 63,000 people in the largest and most diverse analysis of its kind.
Investigators learned that among participants who reported discrimination due to race or ancestry more than once a week, they were seventeen times more likely to have moderate to severe depressive symptoms and a ten times higher in suicidal ideation.
The COVID-19 Participant Experience (COPE) survey of All of us The research program defined discrimination as being treated with less courtesy or respect than other people, for example, receiving poor service in restaurants and other establishments, or being insulted, threatened or harassed.
“The pandemic has precipitated a dramatic increase in racially motivated attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” notes lead author Younga “Heather” Lee, PhD, an MGH researcher who emigrated from South Korea. South in the United States 11 years ago to continue his studies.
“Our study and others suggest that the consequences of anti-Asian racism include stress, depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.”
Smoller stressed the need for clinicians and society as a whole to recognize more fully the “toxic effect” that discrimination and racism can have on the mental health of individuals.
“Inequalities are not inevitable,” he says, “but for change to happen, we need to work harder to understand and address the kinds of discrimination some communities experience and the consequences it can have on their health. and their daily life.
Smoller is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS). Lee is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at HMS and the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit of the Center for Genomic Medicine at the MGH. Co-author Cheryl Clark, MD, is assistant professor of medicine, HMS, and associate chief, Division of General Internal Medicine and Primary Care, Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The study was supported by the International HundredK+ Cohorts Consortium (IHCC), which was established in collaboration with the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) and the Global Genomics Medicine Collaborative (G2MC) with support from the National Institute of Health and Welcome Trust.
About Massachusetts General Hospital
Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, is Harvard Medical School’s first and largest teaching hospital. The Mass General Research Institute conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the nation, with annual research operations of more than $1 billion and includes more than 9,500 researchers working in more than 30 institutes, centers and departments. In August 2021, Mass General was named No. 5 in the US News and World Report list of “America’s Best Hospitals”. MGH is a founding member of the Mass General Brigham Health System.