Author: Sara Habibipour
“We need to dig a little deeper into understanding the influence of cultural context in affecting both the perception of stressors and the manifestations of strain,” says Glazer, a research professor at the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language and a professor of cross-cultural organizational psychology at San Jose State University.
To respond to the events in Minnesota, I would like to use my platform to talk about the effects that stress (as a result of social and environmental injustices) can have on racial/ethnic groups. As you'll read below, discrimination and racism are some of the leading causes of stress-related health disparities among racial/ethnic groups, particularly African Americans. Therefore, with the continued racism in America, we are facing a public health crisis.
What is stress?
Stress is the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response (Cleveland Clinic).
Small amounts of stress to certain situations is healthy, however prolonged stress can harm the body.
There are two types of stress:
Stems from anticipated demands of future or recent past
Long-term, unending feelings of being overwhelmed
Are oftentimes a result of childhood trauma, poverty, perceived discrimination, etc.
Has been proven to lead to other health disparities such as mental health disorders, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disease, obesity and eating disorders, and skin and hair problems (ex: acne, permanent hair loss, etc.) (Web MD).
Causes of Stress-Related Health Disparities among Racial/Ethnic/Cultural Groups
African Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Latin Americans have been impacted greatly by hypertension and diabetes due to chronic stress resulting from discrimination within the work-place, media, and as we now continue to see, discrimination by figures of authority (Williams & Neighbors, 2001; Kaholokula et al, 2010; McClure et al, 2010).
Maternal stress due to experiences of racism have resulted in birth defects and other adverse birth effects (Nuru-Jeter et al, 2009; Dominguez et al, 2008; Canady et al, 2008).
Perceived discrimination/racism has been shown to play a role in unhealthy behaviors such cigarette smoking, alcohol/substance use, improper nutrition and refusal to seek medical services (Lee, Ayers, & Kronenfeld, 2009; Peek et al, 2011). Oftentimes people of color refuse to seek medical services as they would prefer a doctor of their race or culture (someone who can understand their situation better).
Perceived discrimination has been shown to contribute to mental health disorders among racial/ethnic groups such as Asian Americans and African Americans (Jang et al, 2010; Mezuk et al, 2010)
LGBTQ+ individuals are at an increased risk for psychiatric morbidity compared to heterosexuals due to stigma resulting from perceived discrimination, which also contributes to LGBTQ+ youth having higher rates of unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol and tobacco use (McCabe et al, 2010; Lehavot & Simoni, 2011).
This refers to the pressure that people of color have when living under a dominant culture.
Studies on immigrant adolescents and the children of immigrants found that acculturative stress increased depressive symptoms (Kim et al, 2011).
Regardless of age at immigration, foreign-born women experience more depressive symptoms than native-born women during early adulthood (Tillman & Weiss, 2009).
Socioeconomic status and environmental stress have been found to contribute to health disparities among certain racial/ethnic groups including hypertension, mental health disorders, substance abuse, asthma, etc. (Quinn et al, 2010; Russell et al, 2010; Nandi et al, 2010; Lee, Harris, & Gordon-Larsen, 2009; Braveman, 2009; Latkin et al, 2007).
In a study with African American women, long-term poverty and family stress were strongly associated with less physical mobility and cognitive functioning at older ages (Kasper et al, 2008).
The Soujorner syndrome and the Superwoman Schema (SWS) concepts are used to explain the phenomenon of early onset of morbidity among African American women in response to persistent chronic stress and active coping associated with meeting everyday demands and having multiple caregiver roles (Lekan, 2009; Woods-Giscombe & Black, 2010; Slopen et al, 2010)
These studies go to prove that racial and ethnic groups face significant amounts of various health-disparities as a result of discrimination, racism, and environmental, socioeconomic, and family stress. The current events in Minnesota protesting the unlawful murder of George Floyd represent the racial injustices that African Americans face in America on a daily basis. With these racial injustices come stress. However, the health effects of that stress often go overlooked. The racism in this country is affecting more lives than that of George Floyd. With people of color, particularly African-Americans, always in fear of their life, there is no doubt that stress will increase, leading to other problems such as cardiovascular disease, mental illnesses, gastrointestinal disorders, etc. Racism is a public health crisis, and it needs to be put to an end.
APA Fact Sheet: https://www.apa.org/topics/health-disparities/fact-sheet-stress