June 1st, 2016

Stress in America Survey 2015: the impact of discrimination

The American Psychological Association conducted its tenth annual Stress in America survey and released results in March. This particular survey focused on the impact discrimination has on an individual’s stress level.

A total of 3,361 participants took part in the online survey. The results indicated that 69 percent or seven in 10 adults, report having experienced discrimination; 61 percent reported day-to-day discrimination.

According to the survey, minorities experienced high levels of discrimination on an everyday basis, i.e., 76 percent of Black adults, 74 percent of Asian, 72 percent of Hispanics and 81 percent of American Indian/Alaska Natives.

Thirty percent of women versus eight percent of men reported daily discrimination, citing gender as the main reason. Individuals with disabilities report a harder life because of discrimination; 19 percent of those with a disability cite discrimination versus nine percent for those without a disability.

Twenty-three percent of adults who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender report that the police have unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, physically threatened or abused them.

According to C. Avila Wright, Ph.D., director, Research and Special Projects, Practice Research and Policy, at the APA Practice Directorate, the 2015 survey was the most comprehensive the APA has conducted to date.

She explained that major events related to gender and race influenced the APA to focus on discrimination for this survey. “There’s a growing body of literature that shows a connection between discrimination and stress,” she said. “Stress impacts every part of life and that includes family life, social life and work life.”

One finding that surprised the research team at the APA was that even anticipation of discrimination contributed to stress levels. “People acknowledge that they’re in the ‘out’ group. Because of this three out of ten Hispanic and black adults have to take care of their appearance. They have a heightened vigilance,” said Wright.

Wright explained that people who are discriminated against feel an “invalidation of self.” She said, “We know from PTSD literature that a higher level of vigilance can interfere with the ability to feel safe and increases anxiety.”

Financial and work issues topped the list of stressors and the younger generation felt more stress than older individuals. Family responsibility was the third most common response. “People also reported stress around personal health,” she said. “It’s unclear if reporting higher levels of stress is because respondents disproportionately experience these things or the ability to cope with them.”

Wright said, “Stress is part of our lives. Anxiety and worry aren’t necessarily bad. They help to motivate us to do things, such as study for a test. But stress that’s overwhelming inhibits our ability to engage in daily life.”

Following the survey, the APA developed public educational materials on the issue of discrimination. “We created handouts for consumers, psychologists and mental health professionals so they can incorporate the ideas into their work, based on the survey results,” Wright said.

By Phyllis Hanlon

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