In the face of racism, distress depends on one's coping method

April 1, 2010

The way people choose to cope with personal experiences of racism influences the distress caused by the encounter, according to a new study of Filipino-American men and women. Published today in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, the study finds that denying or ignoring racial discrimination leads to greater psychological distress, including anxiety and depression, and lowers self-esteem.

"Some coping methods are healthier than others for dealing with everyday racism," said Alvin Alvarez, professor of counseling at San Francisco State University. "We found that when people deny or trivialize racist encounters, they can actually make themselves feel worse, amplifying the distress caused by the incident."

The study focused on 'everyday racism' -- subtle, commonplace forms of discrimination, such as being ignored, ridiculed or treated differently. "These are incidents that may seem innocent and small, but cumulatively they can have a powerful impact on an individual's mental health," Alvarez said. "Trying to ignore these insidious incidents could become taxing and debilitating over time, chipping away at a person's spirit."

Alvarez surveyed 199 Filipino-American adults, both men and women, in the San Francisco Bay Area and found that 99 percent of participants had experienced at least one incident of everyday racism in the last year.

The study found that for men, dealing with racism in an active way, such as reporting incidents to authorities or challenging the perpetrator, was associated with decreased distress and increased self esteem. "It is possible that for men, coming up with a plan to respond to racism fosters a 'you can do it' attitude, a sense of empowerment that buffers against distress and feelings of victimhood," Alvarez said.

Coping by confiding in friends and family was found to increase men's psychological distress and lower their self-esteem. The authors believe this surprising finding suggests that seeking social support may not always be helpful -- particularly if talking about racism implies that the situation is unchangeable or if it causes a person distress by having to relive difficult experiences.

For women, although the study found that ignoring racism results in increased distress, no significant correlation was found between active coping methods or confiding in others and .

"What's striking is we found that is still happening to Filipinos," Alvarez said. "Therapists need to look beyond the frequent portrayal of Asian Americans as model minorities and help clients assess what their best coping strategy could be, depending on their resources, what's feasible and who they could turn to for support."

The authors caution that what makes a healthy coping mechanism is influenced by such factors as socioeconomic status, age, English language capacity and length of residency in the U.S.

More information: "Filipino Americans and Racism: A Multiple Mediation Model of Coping" is published in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology. In addition to Alvarez, the study was co-authored by Linda Juang, associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

High moral reasoning associated with increased activity in the human brain's reward system

August 22, 2017
Individuals who have a high level of moral reasoning show increased activity in the brain's frontostriatal reward system, both during periods of rest and while performing a sequential risk taking and decision making task ...

Like adults, children show bias in attributing mental states to others

August 22, 2017
Young children are more likely to attribute mental states to characters that belong to the same group as them relative to characters that belong to an outside group, according to findings published in Psychological Science, ...

Wealth disparity and family income impact the brain development of female youth

August 22, 2017
Female teenagers living in neighbourhoods with wide salary gaps and a low-income household show changes to their brain maturation that could indicate a higher risk of developing mental illness in adulthood, suggests a recently ...

Yoga and meditation improve mind-body health and stress resilience

August 22, 2017
Many people report positive health effects from practicing yoga and meditation, and experience both mental and physical benefits from these practices. However, we still have much to learn about how exactly these practices ...

Brain's self-regulation in teens at risk for obesity

August 22, 2017
In a small study that scanned the brains of teenagers while exposing them to tempting "food cues," researchers report that reduced activity in the brain's "self-regulation" system may be an important early predictor of adult ...

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.