Sunday, May 1, 2011

How Structural Discrimination Affects Mental Health

I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Mark Hatzenbuehler, a clinical psychologist who researches how social structures affect the mental health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) populations. The body of his research reveals that a higher percentage of homosexuals have been diagnosed with mental health disorders compared to heterosexuals, especially in regions where same sex marriage is banned. Given these statistics, Hatzenbuehler suggests that structural discrimination motivates LGB people to adopt psychological mechanisms that combat the negative stigma attached to their sexual orientation. Such mechanisms are often the precursor to mental health disorders. Furthermore, Hatzenbuehler has found that suicide rates are higher for both heterosexuals and homosexuals in states where LGB populations are structurally discriminated against, determined by a host of criteria. Consequently, Hatzenbuehler is a proponent for community-based interventions that promote acceptance and tolerance for LGB populations.

I believe Hatzenbuehler's research could be extended to several minority populations. Although mental health disorders were not as widely studied before the civil rights movement, it would be interesting to see if structural discrimination, such as segregation, had similar effects on the mental health of racial minorities. Regardless of how far we have come, I do not doubt for a second that similar results would exist even today. As we have discussed in class, our society places normative value on being both white and heterosexual. If one does not identify with either of these groups, how does it impact their health and wellbeing? Evidently, discrimination influences people both externally and internally. Hatzenbuehler’s overwhelming evidence is frightening. I do not think people realize the dramatic consequences of such public prejudice and discrimination, such as banning same sex marriages or depicting black crime on news channels.

If you're interested in reading more about Hatzenbuehler’s research, here is a link to one of his articles:


  1. This type of research has some interesting parallels to thinkers like Fanon in which race represented a sort of societal psychological disorder. Racism and racial oppression becomes a sort of systematic force dehumanizing all who are participants in it. There is a beautiful quote from James Baldwin, speaking about his father, which summarizes this: "he had a terrible life; he was defeated long before he died because, at the bottom of his heart, he really believed what white people said about him." (From The Fire Next Time)

  2. I also attended that lecture and it was incredible to me how severely LGB populations were affected by society. I imagine that there would be similar results if we had the opportunity to duplicate this study and focus on African American populations prior to and during the civil rights movement.

    And Kimberly you also raise an interesting point, those who do not fall in with the normative groups do not have the freedom to think of themselves independent of their socially gifted masks.


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