Life Course Racism and Depressive Symptoms among Young Black Women

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Journal of urban health


The objective of this study is to evaluate the life course effects of racism on depressive symptoms in young Black women and to identify particularly sensitive periods. Guided by life-course theory and using logistic regression, we analyzed baseline data on racism frequency and stress from racism at two time periods (before age 20 and during the 20s) and follow-up data (at approximate 20-month intervals) on depressive symptoms (using a modified 11-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, CES-D) among 1612 Black women participants aged 23-34 years living in Detroit, MI. Of the 1612 women, 65% reported experiencing some racism at baseline, and 36.5% had high depressive symptoms at follow-up. Those who experienced high frequency of racism before age 20 had an increased risk for high depressive symptoms (RR = 1.26, 95% CI:  1.07, 1.46) compared to participants in the low racism frequency group. We observed similar associations for high vs. low stress from racism (RR = 1.30, 95% CI : 1.06, 1.54) and high vs. low combination of racism frequency and stress (RR = 1.38, 95% CI: 1.13, 1.64). These findings did not hold or were weaker when assessing racism during the 20s. Among women who experienced high racism across the two time periods, the risk of high depressive symptoms was higher than those who experienced low racism during both periods (RR = 1.49, 95% CI:  1.14, 1.86). The slightly stronger associations between racism and depressive symptoms in childhood and adolescence than in young adulthood suggest that early life might be a sensitive period for experiencing racism.

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ePub ahead of print