The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Risk of Racial Discrimination and Prior Level of Depressive Symptoms: Correlates and Predictors of Depressive Symptoms Among Korean American Adolescents

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Tae Yeun Kim, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Yoonsun Choi, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Wook-Jin Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Seoul, Seoul, South Korea
Purpose: Perceived discrimination refers to a belief that one has been treated unfairly because of one’s origin. Perceived discrimination constitutes a negative life event and a source of chronic stress. Ethnic minorities are at a higher risk than whites for experiencing and perceiving discrimination, which leads to poor psychological outcomes (Downey et al., 2005). However, the model minority myth may lead to ignoring the great diversity among Asian American youth in terms of discrimination, academic achievement, rates of risk behaviors, and mental health outcomes (Leong et al., 2007). In reality, depression rates among Asian American youth are higher than those of whites (Petts & Jolliff, 2008), and Asian American adolescent girls have the highest rates of depressive symptoms of all racial and gender groups (Schoen et al, 1997). This study aims to examine the following two research questions: (1) Does perceived discrimination of Korean American adolescents concurrently predict depressive symptoms?, and (2) Does perceived discrimination of Korean American adolescents predict later depressive symptoms after accounting for earlier depressive symptoms?

Methods: We used the data from the Korean American Families (KAF) Project. The KAF Project surveyed Korean American adolescents in middle school living in Chicago areas in 2007 and 2008 with a total sample size of 657. A total 220 adolescents were interviewed with an average age of 12.97 (SD = 1.001) at T1 interview. A total of 150 adolescents were interviewed at T2 interview.  To figure out the mediating role of T1 depressive symptoms, we tested three steps of paths—path from T1 perceived discrimination to T1 depressive symptoms, path from T1 perceived discrimination to T2 depressive symptoms, and path from T1 perceived discrimination and T1 depressive symptoms to T2 depressive symptoms.

Results: Throughout the three steps of regression analyses based on Baron and Kenny (1986), we found that (1) perceived discrimination at T1 negatively predicted T1 depressive symptoms (p=.000, R2 =.066), (2) T1 perceived discrimination significantly predicted T2 depressive symptoms (p = .004, R2 =.040), and (3) T1 depressive symptoms significantly predicted T2 depressive symptoms, independent of T1 perceived discrimination. In short, when adolescents perceive higher level of racial discrimination, they were more likely to report depressive symptoms. Also, T1 depressive symptoms play a mediating role in the relationship between T1 perceived discrimination and T2 depressive symptoms.

Implications: The findings challenge the myth that Asian American youth experience little discrimination and depressive symptoms. Also, the results confirm that depressive symptoms in early adolescence affect depressive symptoms in later adolescence. For the next step, we can investigate how other variables such as ethnic identity may function in the relationship between perceived discrimination and depressive symptoms. We also may consider other control variables into the study, such as socioeconomic status, level of acculturation, which may help provide additional information about variation in discrimination experiences and the ways they interpret racial experiences. Furthermore, how these relationships vary across Asian American ethnic groups should be considered in the future study because there are huge variations across the subgroups (e.g., Cambodian, Vietnamese, etc.).