Be Proud of Who You Are…It's Healthy!
Stronger ethnic identification is associated with positive mental health.
Posted Jul 03, 2018
Fourth of July is upon us. On this day, 242 years ago, thirteen American colonies (which were under the rule of the British Empire) declared independence, joining together and forming the United States of America.
Are you happy that you are an American? It is important to be proud of who you are, whether you think of yourself in terms of your national identity (e.g., American)…political identity (e.g., Republican)…religious identity (e.g., Hindu)…gender identity (e.g., woman), etc.
And why not also feel proud of your ethnic identity (e.g., Han Chinese)?
Ethnic identity comprises behaviors, beliefs, and values that are associated with one’s ethnic group. It is “a sense of self as a group member that develops over time through an active process of investigation, learning, and commitment.”1
Ethnic identity has multiple parts. One major component consists of feelings of attachment and sense of belonging one feels in relation to one’s ethnic group. Other components can include:
- Self-categorization and self-identification (e.g., as Latina, Persian, etc)
- Exploration and learning about one’s culture and traditions
- Ethnic activities (e.g., speaking the language, eating ethnic food)
- Positive views of one’s ethnic group
- Values/beliefs specific to one’s ethnic group (e.g., familism or filial piety)
- Importance of one’s ethnic identity in day-to-day interactions
- The relation between ethnic/national identity (see Table 1 here)
In short, ethnic identity consists of interest in (and knowledge of) one’s own ethnicity. It is associated with good feelings about one’s ethnic group and a sense of pride in one's particular ethnicity.
Ethnic identity and mental health
Before I discuss the result of a review study on the link between ethnic identity and mental health, I would like to briefly mention three studies that investigated the same link, each using a different ethnic population.
Using data on 2,100 Filipino Americans, a 2003 study examined the relation between ethnic identity and mental health. Ethnic identity was measured using items such as “I have a strong sense of belonging to the Filipino community,” “I have a lot of pride in Filipinos and their accomplishments,” and “I participate in Filipino cultural practices, such as special food, music, or customs.”2
The results showed a strong association between salient ethnic identity and improved mental health. Ethnic identity also buffered the stress of discrimination, and was strongly associated with fewer symptoms of depression. Ethnic identification had mental health benefits whether or not the participants had been the subject of discrimination.
In a 2018 study, researchers examined the association between ethnic identity and psychiatric service utilization in 6,500 black and 6,300 Hispanic individuals who had met the criteria for a mental illness.3
Ethnic identity was assessed using an eight item “race-ethnic orientation” scale. The items included statements about ethnic pride, about having a “strong sense” of oneself as a person of a particular ethnicity, the importance of one’s ethnic background in daily interactions, and finally, shared ethnic behaviors, attitudes, and values.
The authors found that “a sense of pride, belonging, and attachment to one’s ethnic group is associated with lower rates of participation in psychiatric services among racial/ethnic minorities.”
The third study, conducted in 2015 on 129 Native American adolescents, investigated how ethnic identity and discrimination relate to hopelessness and academic achievement.
Ethnic identity was assessed using six items. The items measured participants’ sense of attachment and belonging, understanding of ethnic membership, interest in learning about their ethnicity, and active attempt (on their own and by talking to others) to learn more about their ethnic group.
What the researchers found was that those participants who had both a stronger perception of having been discriminated against and who had a weaker ethnic identity, experienced the highest levels of hopelessness.4
The findings of these studies, and the positive benefits of a strong ethnic identity, were confirmed by a 2011 meta-analysis of 184 studies.5
The meta-analysis showed a modest correlation between ethnic identity and personal well-being. Younger participants appeared to gain even more benefits from having a stronger ethnic identity. The association between ethnic identity and well-being did not differ as a function of gender, race, education, and socioeconomic status. In other words, these results should generalize across different populations.
Starting this Fourth of July, why don’t we make more of an effort to accept who we are? Many of us hide or try to run away from certain parts of our identity, be it our gender, nationality, ethnicity, etc. But these are all aspects of who we are.
And if there is any place we can try being more accepting of ourselves, it is in America. Here we believe that all people are…
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (United States Declaration of Independence)
When we are more accepting of ourselves, our differences, our uniqueness, we become more accepting of others too. In short, this is a win-win situation.
So do not hide who you are. Courageously go out, celebrate, and be proud of being… you.
1. Phinney, J. S., & Ong, A. D. (2007). Conceptualization and measurement of ethnic identity: Current status and future directions. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54, 271–281.
2. Mossakowski, K. N. (2003). Coping with perceived discrimination: Does ethnic identity protect mental health? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 44, 318–31.
3. Burnett-Zeigler, I, Lee, Y., & Bohnert, K. M. (2018). Ethnic Identity, Acculturation, and 12- Month Psychiatric Service Utilization Among Black and Hispanic Adults in the U.S. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 45, 13-30.
4. Jaramillo, J., Worrell, F. C., Mello, Z. R. (2015). Ethnic Identity, Stereotype Threat, and Perceived Discrimination Among Native American Adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 26, 769-775.
5. Smith, T. B., & Silva, L. (2011). Ethnic identity and personal well-being of people of color: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58, 42–60.