Biracial Americans of Asian and white descent are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a psychological disorder compared to monoracial Asian Americans, according to a new study from the Asian American Center on Disparities Research at UC Davis.
This is the first nationwide study to look at mental health from the standpoint of biracial individuals, said Lauren Berger, a UC Davis psychology graduate student. Over 6.8 million people in the 2000 U.S. census identify as more than one race.
“Asian and white biracials are the largest Asian biracial population [in the U.S.],” Berger said. “There is some evidence indicating that they may not be doing as well adjustment-wise as their monoracial counterparts.”
This population is often ignored in psychological research, and their adjustment may be more precarious due to their marginalized status, Berger said.
“It took me years to fully integrate my distinctly separate Asian and American heritages into one cohesive identity … to realize that reconciliation of the two [cultures] did not mean sacrificing one for the other,” said Danielle Currie in an e-mail interview, a biology major at CSU Long Beach who is Chinese-White.
Berger and Nolan Zane, a professor of psychology and Asian American studies, analyzed data from the 2002-2003 National Latino and Asian American Study which surveyed over 2,000 Asians nationwide. They looked for differences in rates of psychological disorders – such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse – between 125 biracial Asian/white and 435 monoracial Asian Americans.
After controlling for variables such as age, gender, socio-economic background and life stress, they found that biraciality remained a significant risk factor, with 34 percent of biracials getting diagnosed with a mental disorder compared to 17 percent of monoracials.
The results were presented at the American Psychological Association Convention in Boston in August.
“Based on other studies, rates for biracials in my sample are no higher than for the general population, while rates for monoracial Asian Americans tend to be lower,” Berger said.
Further analysis suggests that having lower ethnic identity is a risk factor that might explain the disparity between biracial and monoracial Asian Americans, Berger said.
“Ethnic identity is the extent to which an individual ascribes to or follows certain traditions from one identity over the other,” she said.
Conflict and confusion over ethnic identity may result in negative psychological outcomes for biracials, Berger said.
“Biracials tend to be viewed as bridges [between two cultures],” said Iris Powell, a UC Davis alumna of Japanese-white descent who was not involved in the study. “Or they get animosity from both sides for not being purebred or for not being sensitive with the cultural norms [of each ethnic group].”
“I have met people … who have not come to terms with their biracial issues,” Powell said. “I think the added [psychological] stress would be the straw that breaks a lot of people’s backs.”
Future research will look at other biracial groups to identify factors that promote their psychological well-being, Berger said. The study also identifies biracials as a group of Asian Americans who may need more attention from researchers and mental health professionals.
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