Study Links Racism, Disorders

Jessie Elder, Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City), Feb. 25, 2006

PROVO—The expanding Hispanic community in Utah could be suffering from depression and sleep disorders related to perceived racism, according to a new study by a Brigham Young University researcher.

Many previous studies have linked depression and sleep disorders, BYU researcher and clinical psychologist Patrick Steffen said, but his new study looks at racism, sleep disorders and depression together.

“We found that perceived racism impacts the quality of their sleep and that disturbed sleep is related to depression,” Steffen said. “Individuals who have experienced racism could be thinking about what happened the previous day, feeling stressed about their ability to succeed when being judged by something other than merit—skin tone or a different way of speaking. Sleep is the pathway through which racism affects depression.”

As a clinical psychologist, depression and sleep deprivation in relation to perceived racism is something Monroe White at the Mountainlands Community Health Clinic in Provo is familiar with.

“I see that kind of thing frequently,” he said.

As with other types of depression, Hispanics feel sad, discouraged, irritable and anxious. They start to lose motivation and have less joy, pleasure and interest in things, White said.

The perceived racism causes depression because those affected have difficulty determining where they fit in with other people.

When a person is a Hispanic moving into a new culture, the people in that culture are not always welcoming, White said. Sometimes people are hesitant to accept others for who they are and what they are.

“So it’s a two-sided thing,” he said.

Steffen, an assistant professor of clinical psychology, is halfway through a $260,000, 4-year study funded by the American Heart Association. He said the American Heart Association is interested in learning more about heart disease factors in Mexican immigrants in general.

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