(CNN)Young adults who experience discrimination about their bodies, race, age or sex have a greater risk of dealing with mental health problems than those who do not, a new study has found.
Discrimination of any kind can lead to much higher risk of mental and behavioral issues for young people, study finds
Encountering discrimination -- especially racism -- has long been associated with negative effects on overall well-being, such as higher levels of stress, poor cognitive function, anxiety, depression and substance use, previous studies have found.
Those who faced discrimination frequently -- at least a few times per month -- were around 25% more likely to be diagnosed with a mental disorder and twice as likely to develop severe psychological distress than people who didn't experience discrimination or did less often, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Having dealt with any degree of discrimination was linked with a 26% higher risk for having poor overall health, according to the participants' responses. Often experiencing discrimination wasn't strongly associated with binge drinking but was linked with more use of drugs such as amphetamines, marijuana, tranquilizers, barbiturates or cocaine in the last year without a doctor's prescription.
The authors analyzed a decade's worth of data from 1,834 American participants who had reported details about their mental and behavioral health and discrimination from when they were age 18 in 2007 to age 28 in 2017. In this study, discrimination referred to "perceived" interpersonal discrimination, defined as "the behavior of individual members of one group that is intended to have a harmful effect on the members of another group," the authors wrote. This differs from institutional and structural discrimination, which can influence and reinforce discrimination between individuals.
The participants answered questions about how often they were treated with less courtesy; given poorer service; or treated as if they were stupid, scary, dishonest or inferior. Then they shared whether they attributed the main reason for their experiences to their ancestry, national origin, race or ethnicity; sex; age; height; weight or other physical aspect.
About 93% of participants said they had experienced discrimination a varying number of times throughout the 10-year study period, the authors found -- this included 91% to 94% of each category of adults (White, Black, Hispanic or Latinx, Asian, native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, American Indian, Alaska Native and other Indigenous peoples). Ageism was the highest reported reason for discrimination, followed by physical appearance, sexism and racism.
Before this study, researchers had still been looking into the impact of discrimination over time and at specific developmental periods, such as when someone transitions into adulthood between ages 18 and 28, the authors wrote. The study is the first to focus on the transition to adulthood and follow the same group of adults over time, according to the authors.
"With 75% of all lifetime mental health disorders presenting by age 24, the transition to adulthood is a crucial time to prevent mental and behavioral health problems," said Yvonne Lei, the study's corresponding author and a medical student at the University of California, Los Angeles' David Geffen School of Medicine, in a statement.
The findings mirror the clinical experiences of psychologist John Duffy and his colleagues, said Duffy, who wasn't involved in the study.