Discrimination Associated With More Stress and Poorer Reported Health

Nearly half of US adults said they have personally experienced unfair treatment or discrimination. These acts of discrimination were associated with higher reported stress and poorer reported health.

Nearly half of US adults said they have personally experienced unfair treatment or discrimination, according to a new national survey. And these acts of discrimination, regardless of the cause, were associated with higher reported stress and poorer reported health.

The annual survey, by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), found that some segments of the population are more likely to report experiencing higher average stress levels, the report concluded, and stress is a significant health disparity in itself that may also be associated with other health disparities.

The report, “Stress in America: The Impact of Discrimination,” was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of APA and included 3361 US adults in August 2015.

The survey found that nearly 7 in 10 adults reported having experienced discrimination. More than 3 in 4 black adults report experiencing day-to-day discrimination, and nearly 2 in 5 black men said that police have unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, physically threatened, or abused them. Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American/Alaska native adults reported that race is the main reason they experienced discrimination.

The highest stress levels, on average, were reported by Hispanic adults. Younger generations, women, adults with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) adults are more likely to report higher average stress levels. Nearly one-quarter of LGBT adults say they have been unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, physically threatened, or abused by police. They also report being unfairly not hired for a job (33%) and being unfairly discouraged by a teacher or advisor to continue their education (24%). Thirty percent of women cite gender as a reason for day-to-day discrimination, compared with 8% of men. All groups appear to cope better with stress and discrimination better when they have emotional support.

Discrimination is widespread and affects many people, whether it is due to race, ethnicity, age, disability, gender, or sexual orientation, said Jaime Diaz-Granados, PhD, the APA’s executive director for Education.

“When people frequently experience unfair treatment, it can contribute to increased stress and poorer health,” he said.

The survey also found that anticipation of discrimination contributes to stress. Three in 10 Hispanic and black adults who reported experiencing day-to-day discrimination at least once weekly said they have to be careful about their appearance if they are to get good service or avoid harassment. This heightened state of vigilance in turn can trigger stress responses.

The survey also suggests that there are significant disparities in the way stress is experienced, and that stress may be linked with other health disparities. In fact, nearly a quarter of adults who reported that their health is “fair” or “poor” have a higher reported stress level, on average, than those who rate their stress as “very good” or “excellent.” The effect of stress on health is particularly problematic because nearly a quarter of all adults say they don’t always have access to the healthcare they need—especially true among Hispanics.