The study, which researchers say is the first meta-analysis to look into racism's effects on adolescents (as opposed to adults), examined 214 peer-reviewed articles examining over 91,000 adolescents between the ages of 10 and 20.
Using 11 indicators of well-being (including depression and levels of self-esteem), researchers found that perceived racial or ethnic discrimination was linked to poorer mental health, lower academic achievement, and more engagement in risky or negative behaviors such as substance use.
"The consistent relations we identified are of particular concern, given the long-term linkages between depression, anxiety, substance use, aggression, hostility, and poor academic performance and engagement with an individual’s risk of illness or early death," lead author Aprile D. Benner, PhD, said in a statement shared with Refinery29.
The study notes that humans start to understand racial and ethnic differences fairly early in life — babies as young as six months old can sense these differences, and even pre-schoolers might begin grouping themselves by race. And by age 10, they can start recognizing obvious and even subtle signs of racial discrimination.
"The psychological, behavioral and academic burdens posed by racial and ethnic discrimination during adolescence, coupled with evidence that experiences of discrimination persist across the life course for persons of color, point to discrimination as a clear contributor to the racial and ethnic disparities observed for African-American, Latino and Native American populations compared with their white counterparts," Dr. Benner said in the statement.
It's certainly true that people of color face mental health disparities. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Black Americans are 20% more likely than the general population to develop mental health problems, and Latinx Americans experience disparities in access to treatment. Asian-Americans are also three times less likely than white Americans to seek help for mental health issues.
"While the past three decades have seen a major increase in attention to issues of racial and ethnic discrimination in adolescence, we have identified substantial gaps that should be addressed in future research," Dr. Benner said.
If you are experiencing depression or anxiety and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1-800-826-3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.