Thursday, July 9, 2020

Racial, Ethnic Minorities in United States More Likely to Experience COVID-19 Discrimination

COVID-19–associated discrimination disproportionately impacted members of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States in March and April, and those individuals experienced increased mental distress, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“Anecdotal discriminatory acts amid the COVID-19 pandemic have been widely documented in media reports,” wrote Ying Liu, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and colleagues. This study “provides the first systematic assessment on how perceived CAD [COVID-19–associated discrimination] is associated with potential risk factors … and mental distress.”

The researchers invited a random sample of U.S. adults aged 18 and older who were part of the Understanding America Study to participate in the survey. The participants used a computer, tablet, or smartphone (they were provided a tablet and broadband internet if necessary) to answer questions about whether they felt they had experienced discrimination due to people thinking they might have COVID-19 in March and then again in April.

COVID-19–associated discrimination was assessed using a four-item scale that was adapted from the Everyday Discrimination Scale Short Version. Respondents were asked if they had perceived the following actions due to others thinking they might have COVID-19: received less courtesy or respect, received poorer service at restaurants or stores, were threatened or harassed, or felt that people acted as if they were afraid of them. Possible responses included yes, no, or unsure.

Mental distress was assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire, in which respondents were asked how often in the past 14 days they felt bothered by feeling anxious, feeling depressed, having little interest in doing things, and not being able to stop or control worrying. Respondents were also asked whether they had worn a face mask or covering in the past seven days and if they had experienced COVID-19 symptoms.

Of the 3,665 participants who took both the March and April surveys, the overall percentage who said they had experienced COVID-19–associated discrimination doubled from 4% in March to 10% in April. In both months, those who experienced discrimination were more likely to be members of racial/ethnic minorities, immigrants, and/or younger; have disease-related symptoms; have used face masks; and have experienced prior discrimination.

Asian Americans were at higher risk of COVID-19–associated discrimination in March, and the risk of COVID-19 discrimination among Black individuals increased from March to April, the authors wrote. Wearing face masks was also a persistent risk factor for discrimination. Mental distress, both during and prior to the pandemic, was higher for those who perceived COVID-19–associated discrimination.

“The relationship between COVID-related discrimination and worsening anxiety and depression is particularly pertinent during this pandemic, as it compounds mental health distress attributable to concerns of disease spread, social restrictions, and financial stress,” said co-author PhuongThao Le, Ph.D., M.P.H., in a news release.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Asian American Hate Incidents: A Co-occurring Epidemic During COVID-19.”

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