African American Adolescents Speak: The Meaning of Racial Identity in the Relation Between Individual Race-Related Stress and Depressive Symptoms

  • Michael CunninghamEmail author
  • Rosa Maria Mulser
  • Kristin Scott
  • Ashlee Yates


The study investigates the associations of individual race-related stress and mental health in African American adolescents. Under the backdrop of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the project uses quantitative and qualitative methods that are used to clarify the roles of racial identity. Focus groups are used to understand how participants discussed racial identity experiences and racial discrimination. The participants were 146 high school students with an average of 15.68 (SD = 1.16). Twenty-nine students were selected for focus group interviews. Racial identity was measured with the Multidimensional Inventory of Black Identity-Teen (MIBI-T) (Scottham et al., Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 14:297–306, 2008). The internal consistencies were adequate (e.g., centrality, α = 0.63, private regard α = 0.73, and public regard, α = 0.80). The Index of Race-Related Stress (Seaton, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 15:137–144, 2003; Utsey & Ponterotto, Journal of Counseling Psychology 43:490–502, 1996) was used to measure stress experienced by African Americans as a result of encounters with racism and discrimination (α = 0.87). Depressive symptoms were measured from the Children’s Depression Inventory (α = 0.70) (Kovacs, Children Depression Inventory (CDI) manual. Toronto, Canada: Multi-Health Systems, 1992). Results. The three-way interaction between individual race-related stress, racial centrality, and private regard was statistically significant. Racial identity acted as a protective factor between individual race-related stress and depressive symptoms for students who held positive attitudes toward their group and for whom race is highly central. The qualitative results indicated that adolescents with high racial centrality, high private regard, and high public regard have lower symptoms of depression. These results were especially useful in understanding how adolescents coped with the evacuation experiences associated with Hurricane Katrina. This subsample of focus group participants reported that African American adolescents who have high racial centrality, high private regard, but low levels of public regard have better life outcomes due to being more prepared to cope with race-related stress, which fully supported the study’s hypothesis. The overall results illuminate patterns of resilience in the face of a national disaster.


African American Adolescents Depressive symptoms Discrimination Hurricane exposure Mixed-methods Psychological well-being Racial Identity Race-Related Stress Resilience Racism Trauma Quantitative methods Qualitative methods 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Cunningham
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rosa Maria Mulser
    • 1
  • Kristin Scott
    • 2
  • Ashlee Yates
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA
  2. 2.Children’s HealthDallasUSA

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