When evaluating the reasons for health disparities, most studies find a link between income and education to explain the health gap in the black community. But a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan has found that blacks with higher levels of affluence are more likely to suffer from depression. Even more revealing, the study linked the causes of higher levels of depression to ... you guessed it, discrimination.
Published in the most recent edition of Brain Sciences, “Subjective Socioeconomic Status Moderates the Association between Discrimination and Depression in African American Youth” studied data from a sample of African-American youths ages 13-17. The collaborative project between Michigan’s Department of Psychiatry; the Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture and Health; and the School of Public Health found a link between major depressive disorder, discrimination and higher socioeconomic status.
Instead of looking at objective standards like income or poverty levels, the study used subjective SES, the perceived socioeconomic status of the subjects (participants were asked if they have less than enough, enough or more than enough money to live), combined with the poverty index and family income.
The researchers also measured when and how often the subjects of the study experienced discrimination. Instead of asking the teenagers how many times wypipo called the police on them (which is what I would have done, but again, my Ph.D. in wypipology didn’t require laboratory research), the scientists used an existing discrimination-measurement scale called the “Everyday Discrimination Scale” that asked the respondents if they experienced specific incidents such as:
- You are treated with less courtesy or respect than other people.
- You receive poorer service than other people at restaurants or stores.
- People act as if they think you are not smart.
- People act as if they are afraid of you.
- People act as if they think you are dishonest.
The answers were scored and categorized based on whether the kids experienced discrimination in the last 30 days, the past year or in their lifetimes.
The results of the study concluded that neither gender nor economic status seemed to increase the likelihood of major depressive disorders in African-American youths. But when the factors were combined, affluent black kids were more likely than poor ones to suffer major depressive disorder the more they experienced discrimination.
“It wasn’t really shocking to me based off of society today and my experience,” Chase Garrett, a black undergraduate researcher who worked in the lab on this project, told the Michigan Daily. Garrett explained:
Oftentimes, us African-American people tend to hold a lot of things in so there’s a whole lot of internal anger and a lot of built-up aggression that we just internalize and basically just go out into the world and act like nothing is happening. We kind of just let it roll off our shoulders and just try to keep it moving. ...
We know [discrimination is] all around us and I feel as though a lot of people and society today, we try to put a Band-Aid on the issues that are actually going on … I feel like this issue still needs to be talked about and discussed every single day and I feel as though African Americans alone can’t help bring this change. Also, white Americans need to come together with African Americans as well to bring this change, and it needs to be an open discussion on this topic.
Lead researcher Shervin Assari suggests that the study’s findings differ from research on whites. While affluent whites seem to have lower levels of stress, the study shows that prosperous African Americans suffer from more stress. In a 2016 article, Assari explained why this might be:
Whites who live under adversity do worse than blacks and other minority groups who live under the same life conditions. In other terms, if you expose whites to an environment similar to that of blacks, their health status would decline much faster than blacks.
But what does my research actually show? In various studies, I have found that whites are far less resilient to a wide range of psychosocial risk factors, suggesting that whites are less able to successfully adapt to life tasks in harsh environments.
He theorized that the high rates of stress among affluent blacks could be the result of a coping mechanism called “goal-striving stress.” Often prevalent in black achievers, it is the stress and disappointment experienced when achievements don’t match one’s aspirations. The glass ceilings encountered by black populations often lead to poor mental health.
Assari also thinks that the prevalence of stress among young black teenagers may be due to “John Henryism,” another technique for coping with stress by increasing the level of output. Basically, this is just a scientific way to explain the adage that a black man has to work twice as hard to get half as much as a white man.
Another theory that might explain well-to-do young people’s depression may simply be because, whether it is at school or in social situations, black youths from high socioeconomic families may feel isolated in predominantly white surroundings.
Or maybe it’s just white people.
Of course, some will read this as just another attempt to blame anyone other than black people for our problems.
Those people stress me out.