Coping at the intersection: a transformative mixed methods study of gendered racism as a root cause of mental health challenges in black college women

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University of Alabama Libraries

Background. Racism negatively impacts mental health. Racial identity has been suggested as a buffer against the impact of racism. But women of color are exposed to gendered racism; based on intersectionality theory. The purpose of this study was to understand the impact of and coping strategies used to deal with gendered racism on the mental health of Black college women. Methods. The mixed methods design included a nonrandom sample of 213 Black college women. Mental health was operationalized as depression (PHQ-9) and psychological distress (K-6). Correlation and regression analyses tested the impact of gendered racism on mental health; examined the role of racial identity; and, explored coping strategies. Through intensity sampling, the qualitative phase included individual interviews (n=12) and a focus group (n=6). Narrative inquiry was used to construct composite counter-narratives, using thematic narrative analysis. Findings. Quantitative results suggested that 84% of the sample require mental health treatment. Gendered racism negatively correlated with mental health; the most significant correlation was between depression and the frequency of gendered racism, r(95) = .405, p ≤ .01. Racial identity was not related to mental health and therefore could not be tested as a mediating factor. The qualitative phase revealed narratives of gendered racism across multiple levels. The institutional level helped to create the normative experience of gendered racism through lack of effective policy; it also impacted the individual and interpersonal levels. Internalized gendered racism resulted in an acceptance of limitations to one's full humanity. The interpersonal level included narratives of sexual assault, being mistaken as ‘the help,’ and assumptions about communication style and educational level. The mixed methods results suggested that effective coping depends on increased education and the deconstruction of gendered racism followed by the use of humor and social support. Discussion. Gendered racism negatively impacts the mental health of Black college women. Interventions should include an emphasis on gendered racism. Narratives revealed how Black college women accept and resist the normative experience of gendered racism. The mixed methods design provided a more nuanced understanding of how Black women cope with gendered racism.

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Public health education, Mental health, Psychology