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Ethnic minority membership and depression in the UK and America

Sue Holttum (Salomons Centre for Applied Psychology, Canterbury Christ Church University, Southborough, Kent, UK)

Mental Health and Social Inclusion

ISSN: 2042-8308

Article publication date: 13 February 2017




The purpose of this paper is to discuss two recent studies on depression in members of ethnic minorities, one based in the UK with older people, and one in the USA. The aim was to examine what might lead to depression in these groups, and what might protect people from it.


The UK-based study examined depression and physical health in older members of the two largest ethnic minority groups in the UK: African Caribbean and South Asian. The US-based study examined whether a sense of belonging to the population group African Americans protected people from depression, as one social theory might predict, or whether racism prevented this protection, as predicted by another theory.


In London-based older South Asians, depression was explained by their poorer physical health compared to white Europeans. In older people of black Caribbean origin, depression was linked to their social disadvantage. The researchers did not measure people’s experience of discrimination, and other research suggests this can explain both physical illness and depression. The US-based study reported better well-being for people who identified with other African Americans, but not if they also felt negative about African Americans. However, these were weak links, so other things may affect well-being more, such as day-to-day relationships and a range of group memberships.


The London-based study was new in studying depression in older people belonging to the two largest ethnic minority groups in the UK and in white Europeans. The US study tested two competing social theories with different predictions about depression in relation to belonging to an ethnic minority. Both studies highlight the need for more research on discrimination and how to reduce it and its negative effects on both mental and physical health.



Holttum, S. (2017), "Ethnic minority membership and depression in the UK and America", Mental Health and Social Inclusion, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 5-12.



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