Methods: Using the survey data from the Study of Older Korean Americans (SOKA, N = 2,150), logistic regression models of mental distress were examined to test the direct effects of perceived racial discrimination and ethnic resources, as well as their interactions.
Results: Approximately a quarter of the sample reported that they had experienced discrimination due to their race or ethnicity, and such an experience was associated with 2.26 times higher odds of having mental distress. Both types of ethnic resources were significant predictors to mental distress. The significant interaction with perceived racial discrimination was observed only in a sense of community—the feeling that they belong to the Korean community served as a buffer against the stress of perceived racial discrimination and protected older Korean Americans from the risk of mental distress.
Conclusions and Implications: Our study supports previous research findings that perceived racial discrimination is a critical life stressor that poses a risk to the mental health of racial and ethnic minorities and highlights the benefits of having ethnic resources in coping with stressful experiences among older immigrants. The results bear on a longstanding body of research on a sense of community as an important psychological resource and suggest the importance of social capital in ethnic communities for older immigrants who might be culturally and linguistically isolated. Given the significant role of ethnic resources, it is recommended to foster social capital in ethnic communities (e.g., community social cohesion and solidarity) in efforts to protect and promote older immigrants’ mental health. Strategies may include enhancing opportunities for community engagement and facilitating supportive community environments in partnership with religious organizations and other local community groups.