New Study Finds Racial Discrimination Has Harmful Long-Term Effects On Black Adolescents

A new study published by JAMA Network Open has found that instances of racial discrimination may put Black adolescents at a higher risk of depression and anxiety. The study’s results, released the week of June 9, explored the harmful long-term effects of racism. 

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia and examined the way that Black adolescents process the traumas of discrimination, The Washington Post.

Assaf Oshri, lead author of the study, considered the avenues of child development and harmful cognition patterns in tangent with racist experiences. Oshri and his colleagues analyzed composite data from over 1,500 participants over the course of three years.

Oshri said, “We know discriminatory experiences are associated with a range of negative health outcomes. This study is showing that some brain patterns that are trying to process threats … can help [participants] cope with these types of experiences, but there might be an emotional toll.”

Focusing on the emotional center of the brain, the amygdala, the researchers assessed Black youth responses to racist threats. Alongside the MRI responses, researchers also looked at self-reported surveys from Black adolescents who had experiences with racial discrimination. They reported being more “scared or anxious, or sad or depressed.” 

Oshri and his team identified internalizing and externalizing symptoms in response to stressors in their environment. 

Oshri found that there was a correlation between “youths whose amygdala shut down in response to negative stimuli and increased reporting of internalizing symptoms — including anxiety and depression” and those who experienced more instances of racism. 

That particular amygdala response was found in 1 in every 5 participants and it could be a sign of avoidant coping. 

“There’s a lot of implications,” Oshri said, “discriminatory experiences are harming our children and [their] development.”

Ryan DeLapp, another researcher agreed, “Looking at biological data can further substantiate what has been shown for decades, [which is] that individuals are significantly impacted by these experiences.”

“These studies are needed in addition to … anecdotes of people’s lived experiences.”

However, they also found that mindfulness exercises can help protect the brain from these harmful formative experiences. 

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