Stress and Discrimination

        Discrimination has significant negative effects on mental health.

Experiencing discrimination has repeatedly been linked with poorer physical and mental health outcomes (Leger et al., 2022, p. 332). One possible reason is that discriminatory experiences mould the way persons interpret and effectively respond to daily stressful circumstances, which in turn impacts health. In their study, Leger at al. (2022) looked at the role of these two regular psychological stress processes as a pathway connecting the long-term association among perceived discrimination and health outcomes.

Discrimination—unfair treatment that is founded on a person’s group membership (e.g., age, race, gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, or body weight)—is a strong determinant of poor psychological and physical health. Perceptions of discrimination are a certain type of stressful life experience that can result in persons facing more threatening appraisals and greater negative reactions to everyday stressful events on a whole. These greater stress processes, as a result, shape the individual’s future health and well-being. Everyday cognitive and affective stress processes are one pathway connecting perceived discrimination to later health outcomes. Perceived discrimination has been associated with a broad range of unfavorable physical- and mental-health circumstances. Individuals who give an account of greater occurrences of discrimination overall report poorer mental health (e.g., depression, mental distress, and generalized anxiety disorder) (Leger et al., 2022).

Moreover, discrimination has been associated with worse physical health, and this can comprise hypertension, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and a higher risk of death (Leger et al., 2022, p. 333). Regardless of the well-documented relationship between discrimination and health outcomes, mechanisms that describe these links are poorly understood. The relationship among perceived discrimination and health outcomes might, in part, be described by how individuals deal with everyday stressful life circumstances that are not connected with discriminatory experiences. Psychological responses to everyday stressors may impact a person’s health over the long run.

The study conducted by Leger et al. (2022) is the first to take a closer look at daily cognitive and affective stress processes as a risk pathway that describes the long-term associations among discrimination and physical- and mental-health circumstances. The authors found that both lifetime discrimination and daily discrimination were associated with physical and mental health for 20 years into the future. Higher instances of lifetime discrimination were associated with higher numbers of chronic conditions, higher functional impairment, and poorer self-rated physical and mental health. Higher instances of daily discrimination were associated with those same outcomes along with a higher likelihood of feeling depression. Moreover, how individuals appraised and reacted to everyday stressful experiences mediated this relationship.

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Leger, K. A., Gloger, E. M., Maras, J., & Marshburn, C. K. (2022). Discrimination and health: The mediating role of daily stress processes. Health Psychology: Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 41(5), 332–342.