by Fernanda Lima Cross, M.S.W.
ANN ARBOR: Latino youth who identify strongly with their ethnic group are less likely to develop symptoms of depression, according to a University of Michigan study.
Previous research has shown that depression affects US-born Latinos. and immigrants of all ages at higher rates than members of any other ethnic-racial group.
“Latino teenagers have an elevated risk of depression, so it’s important that we identify ways to protect them,” said Fernanda Lima Cross, a PhD candidate at the U-M in developmental psychology. “As they develop ethnic pride and learn about what it means to be Latino, they can serve as a buffer against depression.”
The aim of the study, published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, was to better understand the aspects of adolescent development on ethnic-racial identity and its relationship with the development of depressive symptoms among young Latinos.
The data was obtained from a longitudinal study that examined culturally relevant mechanisms to reinforce positive outcomes among youth among Latino families residing in southeastern Michigan. The 148 participants, who were between 13 and 14 years of age at the beginning of the study, answered the surveys annually for three years.
Cross and his colleagues examined the role of the three aspects of ethnic-racial identity among Latino adolescents: 1) the centrality or importance of ethnicity or race for one’s identity 2) private respect (how one perceives one’s own ethnicity or race) and 3) public respect or how one believes that others perceive their ethnic origin or race.
They asked the young people to indicate how often they experienced depressive symptoms, using the Depression Scale of the Epidemiological Studies Center.
“We followed these teenagers during a critical moment in their lives, as they developed their ethnic identity, we met who they are as members of their ethnic group and we learned what it means to be Latino,” Cross said. “Ethnic identity is related to a wide range of outcomes in life, including academic success and general well-being.”
The study findings suggest that several dimensions of ethnic-racial identity are associated with fewer depressive symptoms in different ways at different stages of adolescence.
For example, the degree to which the ethnicity of adolescents was fundamental to their self-esteem was related to lower depressive symptoms as they progressed in adolescence. Younger adolescents with higher positive perceptions of their ethnicity had lower rates of depressive symptoms one year later.
“At younger ages, what mattered most were adolescents’ perceptions of being Latino,” Cross said. “But, as they got older, the perceptions of others about Latinos played a bigger role and were associated with lower depressive symptoms.”
Cross says that this research can be useful to mental health providers working with this population, especially now that young Latinos are growing and developing their identities in an environment of social exclusion and stigmatization where immigrants from their ethnic group are commonly denigrated.
“Teenagers are definitely capturing these negative messages from society, the good news is that parents and young workers can help counteract them by reminding young people of the positive contributions Latinos make,” said study co-author Deborah Rivas-Drake. , professor of psychology and education and author of the book “Below the Surface: Talking with Teens about Race, Ethnicity, and Identity.”