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New Research Summary: How is racial discrimination related to men of color's depressive symptoms?

Updated: Jun 30, 2022

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We sat down with Thomas Le (University of Maryland) to talk about his new study published in our flagship journal, The Psychology of Men and Masculinities. Le and his co-author examined the relationships between racial discrimination and depressive symptoms and gender role conflict in men of color. This important work addresses how experiences of racial discrimination and conflict between an individual's work and personal life to predict depressive symptoms in men of color. We encourage you all to check it out!

Le, T. P., & Iwamoto, D. K. (2022). Racial discrimination, gender role conflict, and depression in college men of color: A longitudinal test of the racist-gender stress model. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 23(1), 4–12.

What were the research questions you were answering with this study?

The present study investigated two main research questions: 1) the extent to which racial discrimination (i.e., unfair treatment based on one’s race) was longitudinally associated with college men of color’s depressive symptoms, as well as 2) the extent to which racial discrimination would be indirectly longitudinally associated with men of color’s depression through two forms of gender role conflict, work conflict (i.e., experiencing conflict between one’s work/academic life and personal life) and success, power, and competition (i.e., valuing achievement and winning).

Worded more casually, the study examined if racial discrimination is associated with men of color’s depressive symptoms. Furthermore, we wanted to know if experiencing more racial discrimination would also predispose men of color to struggle to balance work/academics and personal life or to value success more, which may then be associated with depressive symptoms.

What are some of the key findings of this study?

First, we found that racial discrimination was positively associated with greater depressive symptoms in college men of color six months later. Second, we found that greater experiences of racial discrimination were associated with greater work conflict, which was then associated with greater depressive symptoms. Heightened racial discrimination was not significantly associated with greater success, power, and competition, and this form of gender role conflict also was not significantly associated with depressive symptoms.

What are some key implications of your findings for research or practice?

One key finding is that for men of color who experience greater depressive symptoms, it is important to examine the extent to which they may be facing racial discrimination, which may then be exacerbating conflicts between their work/academics and personal lives. Mental health occurs within the greater context of forces such as white supremacy and patriarchy, and our study highlights how when working with men of color, both practitioners and researchers may ask questions such as: how does racial discrimination influence how much you work? How do you feel like issues of work/life balance or workplace discrimination may affect your mental health? Furthermore, folks across research, practice, and other professional domains may try to prevent racial discrimination from occurring in the first place to bolster men of color’s psychological wellbeing.

Our findings also draw attention to a key distinction between the effects of work conflict as opposed to success, power, and competition. Notably, work conflict was associated with heightened depressive symptoms whereas success, power, and competition was not. Thus, these findings suggest that valuing achievement and winning in and of itself may not be deleterious for men of color’s mental health, rather, it’s the extent to which that investment in work starts to conflict with other areas of their lives (e.g., friendships, family) that may put them at greater risk for depressive symptoms.

Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?

There are so many exciting possibilities for future research in this area! First, I am hoping to incorporate a more strengths-based perspective in examining men of color’s wellbeing. I am curious about ways that men of color can resist degrading, racist messages – perhaps through positive affirmations related to racial identity, or through engaging in racial justice-focused activism. I hope that my research and that the research in this field overall can examine ways that men of color can thrive both within and outside of the context of white supremacy.

I am also curious from a more intersectional framework about how these associations may play out for queer men of color, or men of color from specific racial groups (e.g., Asian men, Black men, Latino men, Native American men). As a queer, genderqueer man of color myself, I have observed how distinct groups of men may be positioned to either resist internalizing racist ideology, or to succumb to internalizing these harmful ideas.

How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?

From a research perspective, I have always been interested in the intersection of identities such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. I read about the racist-gender stress model proposed by Liu and Wong (2018) and found it so intriguing and applicable to my clinical work and daily life: the model essentially posits that racist experiences may threaten men of color’s sense of identity and self-worth, so they may try to reclaim their self-esteem through adhering to traditional masculine norms. I was fortunate that my PhD research advisor, Dr. Derek Iwamoto, had a dataset at hand where I could lead a paper that contained the present study’s variables of interest.

Beyond the academic sense, I have always found it disheartening when folks, whether in day to day life or social media, criticize men of color without considering how racism may affect their experiences. I am aware of people who praise white men in particular for having qualities (e.g., confidence, self-esteem) that they perceive men of color as lacking in. While I disagree with this idealization of white men in general, I also find it important to again consider how racial discrimination factors into men of color’s wellbeing. I am passionate about social justice and deconstructing systems of oppression, therefore, I hope this study can highlight the urgent necessity to fight both white supremacy and patriarchy, so that men of color and other marginalized individuals can thrive.

Thomas Le, M.S.

Doctoral Candidate, Counseling Psychology

Department of Psychology

University of Maryland

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