Racial Status and Mental Health among Canadian Adults

Date

2013-12-06

Authors

Schimmele, Christoph Michael

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Abstract

This study examined the relationship between race and mental health among Canadian adults. The purpose was to assess how social organization contributes to the racial distribution of mental health. The study defined mental health as a multi-dimensional construct that includes negative, positive, and subjective facets. The empirical analysis compared East Asians, South Asians, Blacks, Aboriginals, and mixed race persons to Whites on major depression, psychological distress, psychological well-being, and self-rated mental health. Separate comparisons were made for women and men because the relationship between race and mental health could be conditional on gender. Using individual-level data from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 1.2 and aggregate data from the 2001 Canadian Census, the study hypothesized that racial differences in mental health could reflect differences in stress exposure, socioeconomic status, social embeddedness, and neighborhood environment. The main assumption was that higher stress exposure, economic hardship, social isolation, and neighborhood disadvantage could compromise the mental health of racial minorities. The study also examined whether social support and coping behaviors protected racial minorities from these health-damaging effects. The findings do not present a straightforward or a consistent set of conclusions. Although there is a good rational to believe that racial minorities should have worse mental health than Whites, this is not always or even mostly the case. Only Aboriginal women have a consistent disadvantage. For the most part, racial minorities have similar mental health as Whites, and even have an advantage in a few instances. Since the analysis covered the negative, positive, and subjective dimensions of mental health, it provides robust evidence to support this conclusion. However, the findings also demonstrate that low socioeconomic status and insufficient social resources can indeed have health-damaging effects. These factors explain some of the observed disadvantages in mental health that racial minorities experience or suppress an advantage among them.

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Keywords

mental health, depression, stress process, psychological well-being, psychological distress, race

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