Racial Discrimination, Mental Health and Behavioral Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic: a National Survey in the United States

Lu Shi, Donglan Zhang, Emily Martin, Zhuo Chen, Hongmei Li, Xuesong Han, Ming Wen, Liwei Chen, Yan Li, Jian Li, Baojiang Chen, Athena K. Ramos, Keyonna M. King, Tzeyu Michaud, Dejun Su

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Background: While hate crimes rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, few studies examined whether this pandemic-time racial discrimination has led to negative health consequences at the population level. Objective: We examined whether experienced and perceived racial discrimination were associated with mental or behavioral health outcomes during the pandemic. Design: In October 2020, we conducted a national survey with minorities oversampled that covered respondents’ sociodemographic background and health-related information. Participants: A total of 2709 participants responded to the survey (response rate: 4.2%). Main Measures: The exposure variables included (1) experienced and encountered racial discrimination, (2) experienced racial and ethnic cyberbullying, and (3) perceived racial bias. Mental health outcomes were measured by psychological distress and self-rated happiness. Measures for behavioral health included sleep quality, change in cigarette smoking, and change in alcohol consumption. Weighted logistic regressions were performed to estimate the associations between the exposure variables and the outcomes, controlling for age, gender, race and ethnicity, educational attainment, household income, eligibility to vote, political party, COVID-19 infection, and geographic region. Separate regressions were performed in the six racial and ethnic subgroups: non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, East Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian respondents. Key Results: Experienced racial discrimination was associated with higher likelihood of psychological distress (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 2.18, 95% confidence interval [95% CI]: 1.34–3.55). Experienced racial discrimination (AOR = 2.31, 95% CI: 1.34–3.99) and perceived racial bias (AOR = 1.05, 95% CI: 1.00–1.09) were both associated with increased cigarette smoking. The associations between racial discrimination and mental distress and substance use were most salient among Black, East Asian, South Asian, and Hispanic respondents. Conclusions: Racial discrimination may be associated with higher likelihood of distress, and cigarette smoking among racial and ethnic minorities. Addressing racial discrimination is important for mitigating negative mental and behavioral health ramifications of the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2496-2504
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • COVID-19
  • cyberbully
  • mental health
  • pandemic
  • racial bias
  • racial discrimination
  • substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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