Discrimination creates racial battle fatigue for African-Americans

March 3, 2011

Just as the constant pressure soldiers face on the battlefield can follow them home in the form of debilitating stress, African Americans who face chronic exposure to racial discrimination may have an increased likelihood of suffering a race-based battle fatigue, according to Penn State researchers.

African Americans who reported in a survey that they experienced more instances of racial discrimination had significantly higher odds of suffering generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) some time during their lives, according to Jose Soto, assistant professor, psychology.

Generalized anxiety disorder has both psychological and physical symptoms that are so severe that they can significantly affect everyday tasks and job performance. People with the disorder may have chronic worrying, intrusive thoughts and difficulty concentrating. Physically, the disorder may manifest such symptoms as tension headaches, extreme fatigue and ulcers. Some of these symptoms are associated with "racial battle fatigue," a term coined by William A. Smith, associate professor, University of Utah.

"The results of our study suggest that the notion of racial battle fatigue could be a very real phenomenon that might explain how individuals can go from the experience of racism to the experience of a serious ," said Soto. "While the term is certainly not trying to say that the conditions are exactly what soldiers face on a battlefield, it borrows from the idea that stress is created in chronically unsafe or hostile environments."

The researchers, who reported their findings in the current issue of the Journal of , examined data from the National Survey of American Life, a study of 5,899 American adults. The study collected data on, among other topics, mental health and experiences of discrimination from 3,570 (60.5 percent of the total study population), 1,438 Afro-Caribbeans (24.4 percent) and 891 non-Hispanic Whites (15.1 percent).

Of the African Americans surveyed, more than 40 percent reported they experienced some form of racial discrimination, and approximately 4.5 percent reported suffering from GAD. About 39 percent of Afro-Caribbeans reported examples of racial discrimination, but only 2.69 percent had ever developed GAD.

The experience of racial discrimination, however, was not associated with GAD for Afro-Caribbeans. Soto, who worked with Nana Dawson, graduate student in psychology and Rhonda BeLue, assistant professor, health policy and administration, suggested that because Afro-Caribbeans have a different history from African Americans, they may both define and manage racial discrimination differently.

While non-Hispanic whites had higher rates of than both African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans, only 7.79 percent of non-Hispanic whites reported incidents of racial discrimination. Although experiences of among non-Hispanic whites were not associated with the development of GAD, experiencing other forms of discrimination, such as age and gender discrimination, was associated with the disorder.

"One interesting finding from the study is that non-racial discrimination seems to be associated with the development of GAD for all three groups in the sample," Soto said. "About 49 percent of non-Hispanic whites said they suffered other forms of discrimination."

Soto said the connection between racism and severe anxiety underscores the negative impact that discrimination has on society.

"This is just one instance of how powerful social stressors can impact healthy functioning," Soto said. "And I would suspect, if we could wave a wand and eliminate racism from our past and our present, we would also eliminate a lot of health disparities."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

After searching 12 years for bipolar disorder's cause, team concludes it has many

December 15, 2017
Nearly 6 million Americans have bipolar disorder, and most have probably wondered why. After more than a decade of studying over 1,100 of them in-depth, a University of Michigan team has an answer - or rather, seven answers.

Suicidal thoughts rapidly reduced with ketamine, finds study

December 14, 2017
Ketamine was significantly more effective than a commonly used sedative in reducing suicidal thoughts in depressed patients, according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). They also found that ketamine's ...

Do bullies have more sex?

December 14, 2017
Adolescents who are willing to exploit others for personal gain are more likely to bully and have sex than those who score higher on a measure of honesty and humility. This is according to a study in Springer's journal Evolutionary ...

Children's screen-time guidelines too restrictive, according to new research

December 14, 2017
Digital screen use is a staple of contemporary life for adults and children, whether they are browsing on laptops and smartphones, or watching TV. Paediatricians and scientists have long expressed concerns about the impact ...

Eating together as a family helps children feel better, physically and mentally

December 14, 2017
Children who routinely eat their meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental health benefits, a new Canadian study shows.

The iceberg model of self-harm

December 14, 2017
Researchers have created a model of self-harm that shows high levels of the problem in the community, especially in young girls, and the need for school-based prevention measures.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Jimee
1 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2011
While this seems largely a common sense result, it is good to see that the everyday effects of dehumanization and humiliation of a population is being studied. What I would like to know is will the result be listened to and acted upon? At least some are willing; while many would still misrepresent and rewrite history to make their attitudes seem less like racism and religious bigotry and more like patriotism and religious "purity".
Only meaningful reparation and continuing multi-generation education efforts can begin to address the civil grievances endured by US citizens of non-caucasian descent.

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.