Does Racial/Ethnic Discrimination Experiences Associate with Problem Behaviour and Mental Health?

by AlisonD on November 13, 2016 - 10:37pm

In Amy L. Tobler, et al.’s (2012) study “Perceived Racial/Ethnic Discrimination, Problem Behaviors, and Mental Health Among Minority Urban Youth,” the researchers investigated the frequency and intensity of racial and ethnic discrimination experiences and their association to problem behavior and mental health (p. 337).  The researchers hypothesized that the frequency and intensity of racial/ethnic discrimination experiences has a relationship with the health and behavioral outcomes of adolescents (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 339). The study took place between October 2008 and October 2009. The sample included 2490 African-American, Hispanic and White adolescents between the ages of 17 and 18 years old in the city of Chicago. The researchers used mail, web and school surveys. The independent variable is racial and ethnic discrimination, which is measured by frequency (how often they occur) and intensity (stress level) (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 339). The dependent variables include substance use (alcohol and marijuana), problem behavior (physical aggression and delinquency), mental health (victimization, depression and suicidal thoughts), sexual behavior (number of sexual partners, age of first sexual experience and unprotected sex) (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 340-342). The study revealed that race/ethnicity and gender had no significant relationship with the outcomes identified (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 343). The possibility that there is no difference within the racial and ethnic groups is explain by heterogeneous schools of inner city (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 346). Almost 75% of the participants experienced racial and ethnic discrimination (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 345). Racial/ethnic discrimination experiences resulted in higher risk of victimization and depression within all levels of frequency and intensity (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 343). Whereas, it resulted in higher risks of physical aggression, delinquency, suicidal thoughts, young age for oral sex, unprotected sex and more sexual partners within higher frequency and varying levels of intensity (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 343). There was no relation between substance use and racial/ethnic discrimination experiences (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 344). The findings indicate a higher risk of physical aggression, delinquency, victimization, depression, suicide thoughts and risky sexual behavior when experiencing racial and ethnic discrimination (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 345). Most individuals experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts have experienced racial and ethnic discrimination, which can lead to adulthood mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety disorders, multi-drug use, low education attainment, relationship issues and poorer health (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 347). Previous studies suggested prevention and coping strategies for the individuals experiencing racial and ethnic discrimination (Tobler, et al., 2012, p. 347).


            This study had many helpful outcomes. Knowing how racial discrimination experiences affect adolescent can help people prevent them or teach the adolescents how to cope with the stress and depression caused from it. The researchers suggest coping and prevention strategies; however, they do not specify which ones. As we saw in class, educating children at a young age helps them understand race and prevent biases. It can also help minority groups cope when experiencing racial discrimination. I strongly believe that racism can affect the mental health of anyone, and this study shows me that I have a valid opinion. In class, we saw the Jane Elliot experiment with discrimination through eye colour. This study can help explain some of the behavior. The study suggests that adolescents faced with racial an ethnic discrimination more frequently will rely of physical aggression and misconduct. In the eye-colour experiment, many students turned to aggression when faced with discrimination acts. Thus, this confirms that discrimination can lead to behavioural problems. A draw back of this study includes the specific sample. The adolescents are urban centered, thus there is a more multicultural aspect in cities. The sample cannot be generalized to a larger population. Nonetheless, I believe the study examines important factors for the well-being of minority groups by educating them on possible outcomes of racial and ethnic discrimination.



Tobler, A. L., Maldonado-Molina, M. M., Staras, S. A. S., O’Mara, R. J., Livingston, M. D., & Komro, K. A. (2012). Perceived racial/ethnic discrimination, problem behaviors, and mental health among minority urban youth. Ethnicity & Health, 18(7), 337-349. doi: 10.1080/13557858.2012.730609

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