Discrimination of any kind — whether it’s based on age, sex, race or physical appearance — increases the risk for mental-health issues in young adults, a new study from UCLA found.
What’s more, researchers found the effects of discrimination could be cumulative — the more someone experiences discrimination, the greater their risk for mental-health issues. Those who experienced frequent discrimination, defined as a few times or more each month, were 25% more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness and twice as likely to develop severe psychological distress.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal “Pediatrics” on Sunday, looked at a decade’s worth of data from 1,834 adults aged 18 to 28 at the time the study started. The findings also suggest the effect of discrimination on young people’s mental health is connected to disparities in health care itself.
“The associations we found are likely also intertwined with mental health-care service disparities — including inequities in care access, provider biases and structural and institutional discrimination in health care — leading to inequities in diagnoses, treatment and outcomes,” Adam Schickedanz, the study’s senior author, said in a statement.
While the connection of discrimination and mental health is well-documented, the study is one of the first to focus specifically on the transition to adulthood and to follow the same group of people throughout that period.
“With 75% of all lifetime mental-health disorders presenting by age 24, the transition to adulthood is a crucial time to prevent mental and behavioral health problems,” Yvonne Lei, the study’s corresponding author, said in a statement.
Researchers analyzed data from the University of Michigan’s Transition to Adulthood Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics survey spanning from 2007 to 2017.
Most-cited factor of discrimination
The most-cited factor of discrimination for this age group was — in fact — age, with 26% citing age-based discrimination. Nineteen percent cited physical appearance, 14% cited sex and 13% cited race as factors of discrimination. Overall, approximately 93% of those in the study reported discrimination of one form of another.
These findings are important now as mental-health issues have increased across the board during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront new mental-health challenges — particularly for vulnerable populations,” Lei said. “We have the opportunity to rethink and improve mental-health services to acknowledge the impact of discrimination, so we can better address it to provide more equitable care delivery.”
In terms of mental health, young adults have been particularly impacted during the pandemic. Eighty-six percent of millennials and 84% of Gen Z adults reported stress affecting their lives in the last month, according to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America Survey.
The survey also showed that money was once again a top source of stress for all Americans in 2021.
While money can cause mental health issues, the reverse is true as well. The World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy $1 trillion annually.
Those with depression miss an average of 4.8 workdays and suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity over a three-month period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And depression leads to an estimated loss of 200 million workdays each year in the U.S., costing employers $17 to $44 billion annually.