Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Buffers of Racial Discrimination: Links with Depression among Rural African American Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Buffers of Racial Discrimination: Links with Depression among Rural African American Mothers

Article excerpt

The current study examines racial discrimination as a predictor of depression in a sample of 414 rural, low-income African American mothers of young children. The potential moderating role of optimism and church-based social support was also examined. Mothers completed questionnaires when their child was 24 months old. Hierarchical regression revealed that mothers' perception of racism was a significant predictor of depression even after controlling for a variety of distal demographic characteristics and environmental stressors. Significant interactions suggested the importance of psychological and social characteristics in understanding maternal depression. Specifically, high levels of optimism and church-based social support buffered mothers from increased depressive symptomology attributable to perceived racism.

Key Words: African Americans, coping, depression, motherhood, poverty, rural.

Recent reports indicate that nearly 20% of the U.S. population, primarily women, will experience depression at some point in their lifetime (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006; Hammen, 2003b; Kessler, 2003). A particularly vulnerable time for women to experience depression is during the early years of childrearing (Hammen, 2003b; Jones & Ford, 2008). In fact, over a third of mothers caring for toddlers suffer from symptoms of depression (McLennan, Kotelchuck, & Cho, 2001). This is of great concern because depression may have profound negative consequences for parenting and child development (Field, Hernandez-Reif, & Diego, 2006; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 1999). Despite the high prevalence of traditional sociodemographic risk factors for depression, including low income, unemployment, limited education, and single parenthood within the African American community, there is a paucity of studies on depression among African American mothers (Brown, Brody, & Stoneman, 2000; Carrington, 2006; McLoyd & Enchautegui-de- Jesus, 2005).

In this study, we move beyond sociodemographic risk factors and suggest that racial discrimination may serve to undermine African American women in their role as mothers, eroding their self-esteem and self-efficacy and putting them at increased risk for depression (Belle & Doucet, 2003; Carrington, 2006; Jones & Ford, 2008). Though less overt today than in previous generations, racial discrimination continues to be a primary source of personal and family stress in the African American community (Murry, Brown, Brody, Cutrona, & Simons, 2001; Williams, 1999). Surprisingly, the psychosocial resources that African American mothers may use to buffer the depressive effects of racism have scarcely been examined. This is an important omission, given that mothers with strong personal and social resources may be better able to withstand the chronic stress associated with racial discrimination (Belle & Doucet, 2003; Siefert, Finlayson, Williams, Delva, & Ismail, 2007). The purpose of this paper is to examine the association between racial discrimination and maternal depression in a representative sample of rural African American mothers and to explore optimism and churchbased social support as possible mechanisms that might buffer mothers from the negative mental health effects of racism.

Consistent with ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1989; Bronfenbrenner & Evans, 2000), this study examines distal and proximal processes that may be important in understanding the mental health of African American women living in the rural South. Distal demographic factors have been linked to depression but do not tap the possible causal processes that are linked to mental health. Thus, we examined racial discrimination as a unique psychological proximal process that is developed through interactions with others over time in the lived experiences of African American mothers. Although the origins of racial discrimination may be contextually distal, occurring in multiple contexts such as employment, the justice system, and commercial transactions, the impact can be temporally proximal. …

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