The Stress of Discrimination in the U.S.

Almost half the country reports significant, recurring discrimination.

Posted Mar 11, 2016

CDC, Coping with Stress
Source: CDC, Coping with Stress

Each year, the American Psychological Association releases valuable data and commentary on the stress that stems from living and working in the United States. Yesterday, the organization published its March update to Stress in America: The Impact of Discrimination, with results that are generating much-needed discussion, not least in capturing the daily reality of millions of Americans.

“Nearly half of U.S. adults report they have experienced a major form of unfair treatment or discrimination,” the survey finds, “including being unfairly questioned or threatened by police, being fired or passed over for promotion or treated unfairly when receiving health care.”

Of the 3,361 adults polled for the study in August 2015, nearly seven-in-10 adults reported experiencing discrimination in the U.S., with 61 percent saying it was a near-daily reality. The kinds of discrimination ranged from being treated with less courtesy or respect, to receiving poorer service than others, to, at their most extreme, being threatened or harassed.

With election season generating—or unleashing—its own forms of stress, discrimination, and anti-immigrant rhetoric this year, and Americans continuing to report heightened concern about their standard of living, albeit unevenly, it seems especially timely to hear that more than three-in-four African-American adults “report experiencing day-to-day discrimination” and nearly two-in-five black men “say that police have unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, physically threatened or abused them.” Notes the APA, black, Asian, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska native adults report that “race is the main reason they have experienced discrimination.”

Unsurprisingly, but again with useful confirmation, Hispanic adults living and working in the U.S. are among those reporting the highest stress levels in the survey, with three-in-10 Hispanic and black adults reporting “experiencing day-to-day discrimination at least once a week,” and noting a “heightened state of vigilance” against harassment and discrimination. That includes, in the words of the report writers, “trying to prepare for insults from others before leaving home and taking care of what they say and how they say it.”

“Stress takes a toll on our health, and nearly one-quarter of all adults say they don’t always have access to the health care they need,” Cynthia Belar, PhD, APA’s interim chief executive officer, explains in the organization’s press release. She draws particular attention to Hispanics, who are more likely to voice fears about not being able to access emergency care when they need it. Unsurprisingly, economic anxiety and job security loom greatly as significant concerns.

The survey provides an important picture also of individual and community resilience in the teeth of all this stress and discrimination. According to the APA, the majority of adults (59 percent) who report experiencing discrimination “feel that they have dealt quite well or very well with it and any resulting changes or problems.”

The urgent problem is that they should need to—that a significant percentage of Americans reports living in a “heightened state of vigilance,” including not feeling able to leave home each day without mentally preparing for the insults of others.  Follow me on Twitter @christophlane