Ethnic differences in adolescents' mental distress

Heeseung Choi, The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston


Objectives. The aims of this cross-sectional study were to (1) examine differences among four ethnic groups of middle school students (Anglos, African Americans [AAs], Hispanics, and Asians) on (a) three indicators of mental distress (depression, somatic symptoms, suicidal ideation) (b) social stress (general social stress, process-oriented stress, discrimination) and resources (family relationships, coping, self-esteem) and (2) identify significant risk factors and resources for each ethnic group by examining the moderating effects of ethnicity. Methods. Respondents included 316 students from three schools (144 Anglos, 66 AAs, 77 Hispanics, 29 Asians/Others) who completed self-administered questionnaires. Social stress and somatic symptoms were measured by using the SAFE-C and Somatic Symptom Scale, respectively. The DSD was used to assess depression and suicidal ideation. Resources were measured by using the FES, age-appropriate adaptations of two existing coping scales, and Rosenberg's Self-Esteem Scale. For specific aims, descriptive statistics, ANOVA, ANCOVA, and logistic regression analysis were used. Findings. No statistically significant ethnic group or gender differences were observed in depression and somatic symptoms, but the odds of experiencing depression symptoms were about 9.7 times greater for Hispanic females than for the referent group, Anglo males. Hispanics were also 2.04 times more likely to have suicidal ideation than Anglos ( P < 0.05). AAs and Hispanics reported significantly higher levels of stress than Anglos (OR: 2.2–4.3, 0.00 ≤ P ≤ 0.03). These findings imply that adolescents in these ethnic groups may be exposed to considerable amounts of stress even if they do not exhibit significant symptoms of mental distress yet. Negative moderating effects for ethnicity were found by the significant interaction between ethnicity and social stress in somatic symptoms among AAs and Hispanics. This finding indicates that AA and Hispanic adolescents may require higher levels of social stress to exhibit the same amount of somatic symptoms as Anglo adolescents. Observed ethnic differences in social stress and interaction between social stress and ethnicity in relation to somatic symptoms demonstrated a need for subsequent longitudinal studies, and provided a rationale for incorporating social stress as a critical component not only in research but also in culturally sensitive prevention programs.

Subject Area

Nursing|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Choi, Heeseung, "Ethnic differences in adolescents' mental distress" (2004). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3125128.