Ethnic minority membership and depression in the UK and America

Publication Date13 February 2017
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/MHSI-12-2016-0037
Date13 February 2017
Pages5-12
AuthorSue Holttum
SubjectHealth & social care,Mental health,Social inclusion
Ethnic minority membership and
depression in the UK and America
Sue Holttum
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to discuss two recent studies on depression in members of ethnic
minorities, one based in the UK with older people, and one in the USA. The aim was to examine what might
lead to depression in these groups, and what might protect people from it.
Design/methodology/approach The UK-based study examined depression and physical health in
older members of the two largest ethnic minority groups in the UK: African Caribbean and South Asian.
The US-based study examined whether a sense of belonging to the population group African Americans
protected people from depression, as one social theory might predict, or whether racism prevented this
protection, as predicted by another theory.
Findings In London-based older South Asians, depression was explained by their poorer physical
health compared to white Europeans. In older people of black Caribbean origin, depression was
linked to their social disadvantage. The research ers did not measure peoplesexperienceof
discrimination, and other research suggests this can explain both physical illness and depression.
The US-based study reported better well-being for people who identified with other African Americans,
but not if they also felt negative about African Americans. However, these were weak links, so other
things may affect well-being more, such as day-to-day relationships and a range of group
memberships.
Originality/value The London-based study was new in studying depression in older people belonging to
the two largest ethnic minority groups in the UK and in white Europeans. The US study tested two competing
social theories with different predictions about depression in relation to belonging to an ethnic minority.
Both studies highlight the need for more research on discrimination and how to reduce it and its negative
effects on both mental and physical health.
Keywords Racism, African American, Depression, South Asian, African Caribbean
Paper type Viewpoint
Introduction
Researchers have often suggested that discrimination and racism would cause people
belonging to ethnic minority groups to lose self-esteem and experience depression. However,
research studies have reported conflicting findings about it. Two recent studies investigated the
issue in new ways. A recent UK study (Williams et al., 2015) looked at whether older people of
British South Asian and black Caribbean heritage experience depression more than the white
majority. In the second study featured here (Hughes et al., 2015), the researchers investigated
whether African Americans would experience less depression if they had a strong sense of
belonging to the African American community, since a sense of belonging to a social group is
thought to protect self-esteem.
Previous research studies do not agree about why or even whether members of
minority groups have poorer well-being
Although one UK study found strong links between experiencing racism and poor mental health
(Karlsen et al., 2005), Williams et al. (2015) point out that different research studies have
produced different findings about exactly why people belonging to ethnic minorities have poorer
Sue Holttum is a Senior
Lecturer at the Salomons
Centre for Applied Psychology,
Canterbury Christ Church
University, Southborough,
Kent, UK.
DOI 10.1108/MHSI-12-2016-0037 VOL. 21 NO. 1 2017, pp. 5-12, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2042-8308
j
MENTALHEALTH AND SOCIAL INCLUSION
j
PAG E 5

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