Can years of enduring racial discrimination leave a person as damaged as a returning soldier? New research seems to suggest just that.
A recent study out of Penn State University has found that chronic exposure to racial discrimination is analogous to the pressure troops can feel in combat and war. Researchers found that many African-Americans who’ve been faced with racism struggle with debilitating stress similar to soldiers returning home from war.
According to the study:
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.
The Penn State study confirms a condition that William A. Smith, Ph.D., of the University of Utah has coined “racial battle fatigue.” Smith has argued that individuals can go directly from the experience of racism to the experience of a serious mental health disorder. The study says that while it does not view discrimination as the same as conditions are exactly what soldiers face on a battlefield, it claims the underlying commonality is that stress is created in chronically unsafe or hostile environments.
Even more interesting is the divide within blacks themselves in reacting to racial discrimination. In all, the study surveyed 5,899 American adults. It collected data on, among other topics, mental health and experiences of discrimination from 3,570 African-Americans (60.5 percent of the total study population), 1,438 Afro-Caribbeans (24.4 percent) and 891 non-Hispanic Whites (15.1 percent). The results of the study showed:
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 suggested that because Afro-Caribbeans have a different history than African-Americans, they may both define and manage racial discrimination differently.