Latino youth: Greater ethnic pride, lower risk of depression

February 19, 2019
Written By:
Fernanda Pires

Illustration of a latino family.

ANN ARBOR—Latino youth who strongly identify with their ethnic group are less likely to develop symptoms of depression, according to a University of Michigan study.

Previous research has shown that depression affects both U.S.-born and immigrant Latinos of all ages at higher rates than members of any other ethnic-racial group.

Fernanda Lima Cross

Fernanda Lima Cross

“Latino adolescents are at elevated risk for depression, so it is important that we identify ways to protect them,” said Fernanda Lima Cross, a U-M doctoral candidate in developmental psychology. “Their ethnic-racial identity, as they develop ethnic pride and learn about what it means to be Latino, may serve as a buffer against depression.”

The goal of the current study, published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, was to better understand the aspects of adolescent development about ethnic-racial identity and how it relates to the development of depressive symptoms among Latino youth.

Data were drawn from a longitudinal study that examined culturally relevant mechanisms to bolster positive youth outcomes among Latino families residing in southeast Michigan. The 148 participants, who were 13-14 years old at the start of the study, answered surveys annually for three years.

Ethnic identity relates to a wide range of outcomes in life, including academic success and overall well-being.

Fernanda Lima Cross

Cross and her colleagues at U-M’s CASA (Contexts of Academic + Social Adjustment) Lab examined the role of three aspects of ethnic-racial identity among Latino adolescents: 1) centrality (the importance of ethnicity or race to one’s identity); 2) private regard (how one perceives their own ethnicity or race) and 3) public regard (how one believes others perceive their ethnicity or race). They asked the youth to indicate how often they experienced depressive symptoms, using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale.

“We followed these teenagers during a critical time in their lives, as they developed their ethnic identity, got to know who they are as members of their ethnic group, and learned about what it means to be Latino,” Cross said. “Ethnic identity relates to a wide range of outcomes in life, including academic success and overall well-being.”

The study’s findings suggest that various dimensions of ethnic-racial identity are associated with fewer depressive symptoms in distinct ways at different stages of adolescence.

For example, the degree to which the teens’ ethnicity was central to their sense of self was related to lower depressive symptoms as they progressed through adolescence. Younger adolescents with higher positive perceptions of their ethnicity had lower rates of depressive symptoms one year later.

“At younger ages, what mattered most was the adolescents’ own perceptions about being Latino,” Cross said. “But, as they aged, others’ perceptions about Latinos played a more important role and were associated with lower depressive symptoms.”

This research, she says, may offer support for mental health providers working with this population, especially now that Latino youth are growing up and developing their identities amid an environment of social exclusion and stigmatization where immigrants of their ethnic group are commonly denigrated through negative media portrayals and calls for mass deportations.

“Teens are definitely picking up on these negative messages from society. The good news is that parents and youth workers can help to counteract them by reminding youth of the positive contributions that Latinos make,” said study co-author Deborah Rivas-Drake, U-M professor of psychology and education and author of the book “Below the Surface: Talking with Teens about Race, Ethnicity, and Identity.”


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