Multifactorial discrimination as a fundamental cause of mental health inequities [Int J Equity Health, Mar 2017 — free full-text]

The theory of fundamental causes explains why health disparities persist over time, even as risk factors, mechanisms, and diseases change. Using an intersectional framework, we evaluated multifactorial discrimination as a fundamental cause of mental health disparities. Using baseline data from the Project STRIDE: Stress, Identity, and Mental Health study, we examined the health effects of discrimination among individuals who self-identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. We used logistic and linear regression to assess whether multifactorial discrimination met the four criteria designating a fundamental cause, namely that the cause: 1) influences multiple health outcomes, 2) affects multiple risk factors, 3) involves access to resources that can be leveraged to reduce consequences of disease, and 4) reproduces itself in varied contexts through changing mechanisms. Multifactorial discrimination predicted high depression scores, psychological well-being, and substance use disorder diagnosis. Discrimination was positively associated with risk factors for high depression scores: chronic strain and total number of stressful life events. Discrimination was associated with significantly lower levels of mastery and self-esteem, protective factors for depressive symptomatology. Even after controlling for risk factors, discrimination remained a significant predictor for high depression scores. Among subjects with low depression scores, multifactorial discrimination also predicted anxiety and aggregate mental health scores. Multifactorial discrimination should be considered a fundamental cause of mental health inequities and may be an important cause of broad health disparities among populations with intersecting social identities.

About Robert Zinn

Robert Zinn, M.D., Ph.D. is a medical doctor, physician, and web entrepreneur, who, for over 15 years was employed by academic and research institutions and focused his clinical practices on very specialized patient populations, such as those with rare genetic diseases or rare cancers. He shares his knowledge through his website,

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