A new study has reported that the trauma of racial or ethnic discrimination at an early age leads to mental health problems later in life.
Racial and ethnic discrimination and their effect on mental health have been studied in adults and adolescents, but less is known about the effects of perceived discrimination on children's mental health.
The new study involving UCLA and the RAND Corp. has shown that 15 percent of children surveyed reported experiencing what they perceived as discrimination and that the vast majority of these encounters occurred at school.
The study also found that children who reported feeling discrimination were more likely to have symptoms of one or more of four different mental health disorders: depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder.
"It was surprising to see positive associations between perceived racial and ethnic discrimination in the children and symptoms of all four examined mental health conditions," said lead author Dr. Tumani R. Coker, clinical instructor of pediatrics at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and an associate natural scientist at RAND.
"Parents, clinicians and teachers should be aware that children may experience racial and ethnic discrimination in and out of school and that there may be detrimental effects on their mental health," Coker added.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from a 2004-06 study of 5,147 fifth-graders and their parents from public schools in Los Angeles, Houston and Birmingham, Ala.
They found that a greater percentage of African American children (20 percent), Hispanic children (15 percent) and children identified as "other" (15 percent) reported perceived racial or ethnic discrimination than white children (7 percent).
The strongest and most consistent association of discrimination with mental health symptoms involved symptoms of depression in African American, Hispanic and "other" children reporting discrimination. This association was not significant for whites.
The study will be published in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health and is currently available online by subscription.