Abstract: The Role of Racial-Ethnic Identity in Understanding Depressive Symptoms in the Context of Racial Discrimination Among African American Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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The Role of Racial-Ethnic Identity in Understanding Depressive Symptoms in the Context of Racial Discrimination Among African American Youth

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Eric Kyere, PhD, Assistant Professor, Indiana University, IN
Sadaaki Fukui, PhD, Associate Professor, Indiana University, IN
Stephanie Rudd, MSW, PhD Student, Indiana University, IN
Background: Over fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 (which was intended to end race-based discrimination), racial discrimination still exists, especially in the experiences of African Americans and their children in the United States. In general, while research has suggested the negative association between racial discrimination and mental health of African American youth, many African American youth still experience healthy mental health. The literature has further suggested that the extent to which racial discrimination affects the mental health of African American youth may depend on their racial-ethnic identity (REI) — the meaning and significance attached to racial-ethnic group membership in one’s conceptualization of the self. However, these relationships have not been empirically tested by addressing the multidimensional aspects of REI. The current study examined how the effect of racial discrimination on depressive symptoms interacts with various dimensions of REI among African American youth using nationally representative samples.

Methods: African American youth sample (n=810, mean age =15, SD =1.44, 52 percent females) from the National Survey of American Life-Adolescent Supplement was used for the current study. Hierarchical regression models were used to test our hypotheses. We examined the impact of racial discrimination, parental support, and REI dimensions on depressive symptoms, controlling for demographics. Additionally, we examined the interaction effects between each of the REI dimensions and racial discrimination on depressive symptoms. The REI dimensions included, (1) racial centrality (the importance attached to the racial-ethnic group), (2) private regard (positive affect toward oneself as a member of the racial-ethnic group), and (3) public regard (perceived view of the racial-ethnic group by others).

Results: Eighty-six percent of the participants reported some racial discrimination experiences in their day-to-day life (e.g., treated as less respect). Our findings indicated that racial discrimination was positively associated with depressive symptoms (β = .151, p<.001) [1st model]. Both fathers’ (β =. -.094, p=.028) and mothers’ support (β = -.184, p<.001) were negatively associated with depressive symptoms (2nd model). Among the REI dimensions, private regard (β = -.140, p=.002) and racial centrality (β = .097, p=.033) were significantly associated with depressive symptoms (3rd model). While public regard had no significant main effect, it moderated the effect of racial discrimination on depressive symptoms (β = .094, p<.05). Demographics (i.e., gender, age, family income) were controlled in the models. The final model explained 12% of the variance in depressive symptoms.

Conclusions and Implications: Our finding indicated high frequency of racial discrimination which had a significant negative impact on depressive symptoms among African American youth. Further, REI dimensions impacted depressive symptoms independently from or interactively with racial discrimination. REI may be one important mechanism to understand variations in psychological well-being of African American youth especially in the context of racial discrimination. REI may function to protect African American youth from, or to increase their vulnerabilities associated with racial discrimination. We will discuss implications for culturally competent social work research and practice, including how to address race-relevant discrimination and REI domains that affect African American youth’s mental well-being.