Vicarious experiences of major discrimination, anxiety symptoms, and mental health care utilization among Black Adults

Academic Article


  • Background: The adverse mental health consequences of discrimination among Black adults, such as anxiety symptoms, are well documented. Prior research establishes anxiety as a risk factor for suboptimal health outcomes among Black adults. Most discrimination and mental health studies, however, have focused on the effects of personal experiences of discrimination. Moreover, of the studies that examine the mental health effects of vicarious exposure to discrimination, few investigate this relationship from a stress and coping perspective beyond the life stages of childhood and adolescence. Thus, the purpose of this study was to assess the effects of vicarious and personal experiences of discrimination on the subjective well-being of Black adults, while observing the potentially moderating effects of utilizing mental health care. Methods: A subsample of Black adults (N = 627) between the ages of 22–69 years old were drawn from the Nashville Stress and Health Study and analyzed to assess within-group variation. Multivariate linear regression was employed to examine the association between vicarious experiences of major discrimination and self-reported anxiety symptoms. Additionally, we evaluated the moderating effects of lifetime utilization of mental health services on the relationship between discrimination and symptoms of anxiety. Results: Findings revealed that vicarious experiences of major discrimination and personal experiences of everyday discrimination were both associated with higher levels of anxiety symptoms among the participants. Additionally, lifetime utilization of mental health care moderated the effects of vicarious and personal experiences of discrimination. Conclusions: The secondhand consequences of discrimination must be considered while assessing the racism-related stress experience. Results from this investigation suggest that mental health treatment should be included in programs targeted to reduce the negative effects of discrimination among Black adults. Additionally, culturally-specific strategies should be considered for addressing racism-related adversity.
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  • Moody MD; Browning WR; Hossain M; Clay OJ