By David McNamee
June 29, 2015


Research conducted by the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Culture, Trauma and Mental Health Disparities investigates the extent to which African-American, Latino and Hispanic citizens in the US are disproportionately affected by chronic disease and mental health issues.

Published in the journal Psychological Trauma, the first of two studies by the Center looked at certain negative experiences common among low-income African-Americans and Latinos.

The researchers invited 500 low-income African-American and Hispanic people to self-report stress and mental health measures.

These included experiences of discrimination, childhood violence, poverty and trauma.

Using "structural equation modeling," the University of California-Los Angeles Center (UCLA) team mapped a correlation between accumulation of specific negative experiences and the likeliness of the subjects later experiencing psychological problems.

Overall, the greater the burden people had of these experiences over their lifetime, the more likely they were to go on to have the more severe symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, the authors say that many of the psychological problems that occur as a result of chronic life stress and trauma remain undetected and, therefore, untreated.

Gail Wyatt, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and a senior author of both studies, explains:

"Only a small proportion of individuals with psychological distress are identified in healthcare settings, and a smaller fraction of those ever receive appropriate treatment, especially for the experiences of discrimination.

We talk about being discriminated against, but people don't learn how to cope with it effectively throughout their lives. If they don't manage it well enough, the consequences can be long-lasting and life-threatening."

The authors define five environmental factors that predict depression, anxiety and PTSD among adults.

These are:

  • Experiences of discrimination due to racial, ethnic, gender or sexual orientation
  • A history of sexual abuse
  • A history of violence in the family or from an intimate partner
  • A history of violence in an individuals' community
  • A chronic fear of being killed or seriously injured.


The second study, published in the journal Psychological Assessment, further investigated these five factors - developing a new screening tool that could be applied to clinical settings.

This research resulted in the UCLA Life Adversities Screener, or LADS - a questionnaire designed to help health care providers offer more accurate stress and trauma treatment.

"Given the utility and ease of use, LADS could be effective as a screening tool to identify ethnic and racial minority individuals in primary care settings who have a high trauma burden, and who need more extensive evaluation," says first author Honghu Liu, a professor in the UCLA School of Dentistry.

"We feel it will capture experiences that could be missed with current screening approaches," Prof Liu adds. "This could optimize affordable care as it strives to improve prevention of mental health problems."

In April, Medical News Today reported on a study published in JAMA Psychiatry that found prevalence of major depression is lower among African-American women in rural areas than among African-American women who live in urban areas.

Major depression is defined as having at least five depressive symptoms - including persistent sadness, feelings of hopelessness, guilt and worthlessness, insomnia and thoughts of death or suicide - for a 2-week period or longer.