Race/Ethnicity and self-reported levels of discrimination and psychological distress, California, 2005

Prev Chronic Dis. 2012;9:E156. doi: 10.5888/pcd9.120042.


Introduction: Little is known about the relationship between discrimination and distress among multiple racial groups because previous studies have focused primarily on either blacks or Asian Americans. The objective of this study was to assess the association between self-reported experiences of racial discrimination and symptoms of psychological distress among 5 racial/ethnic groups in California.

Methods: I used data from the 2005 California Health Interview Survey describing an adult sample of 27,511 non-Hispanic whites, 8,020 Hispanics, 1,813 non-Hispanic blacks, 3,875 non-Hispanic Asians, and 1,660 people of other races/ethnicities. The Kessler 6-item Psychological Distress Scale determined symptoms of psychological distress. I used a single-item, self-reported measure to ascertain experiences of racial discrimination.

Results: Reports of racial discrimination differed significantly among racial groups. Self-reported discrimination was independently associated with psychological distress after adjusting for race/ethnicity, age, sex, education level, employment status, general health status, nativity and citizenship status, English use and proficiency, ability to understand the doctor at last visit, and geographic location. The relationship between discrimination and psychological distress was modified by the interaction between discrimination and race/ethnicity; the effect of discrimination on distress was weaker for minority groups (ie, blacks and people of other races/ethnicities) than for whites.

Conclusion: Self-reported discrimination may be a key predictor of high levels of psychological distress among racial/ethnic groups in California, and race appears to modify this association. Public health practitioners should consider the adverse effects of racial discrimination on minority health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
  • California / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Emigration and Immigration / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / standards
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Prejudice / ethnology*
  • Prejudice / psychology*
  • Prejudice / statistics & numerical data
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Self Report*
  • Social Class
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology