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What is Minority Stress?

A stressed out young woman with her head in her handsStress: we’ve all felt it at one time or another.  Maybe you’ve been stressed because of traffic, waiting to hear back after a job interview, paying taxes, or even when dropping a screaming kid off at daycare.  Stress is a part of everyday life and we all experience it. Sometimes a situation may be stressful for one person, but not for another. The reality is that everyone has experienced stress at some point.

However, general stress is distinct from Minority Stress.  Minority Stress, as a model, was first researched in LGB populations in 2003.  It refers to the additional stress that members of marginalized groups experience because of the prejudice and discrimination they face.  The experience of Minority Stress is additive to general stress and can lead to poorer health outcomes compared to individuals that do not experience Minority Stress.

Three key factors distinguish Minority Stress from general stress.  Minority stress is (1) unique, (2) chronic, and (3) socially-based.

Minority Stress is unique because it is not a stressor that is experienced by everyone.  For example, starting a new job can be stressful for anyone but starting a new job and being afraid to mention your spouse for fear of being fired is a combined stressor that individuals in same-sex relationships experience.

Minority Stress is chronic because it remains a relatively stable presence in someone’s life due to underlying social and cultural structures.  A stressful day at work can be ended when you clock out. Sometimes the stress of work may follow some individuals home, but there is relief. However, for individuals living in a racist, sexist, heterosexist, or cissexist society, there is little room for escape from that situation.

Minority Stress is socially-based in that it is about more than individuals.  Rather, Minority Stress stems from social processes, institutions, and structures beyond the individual events or conditions that characterize general stressors.  For example, a transgender woman might experience stress, as anyone experiences stress, when visiting the doctor. But that same transgender woman may have to deal with a medical record that does not recognize her affirmed gender identity and that could cause her to be continually misgendered during her doctor’s appointment – an added degree of stress caused by a medical institution that influences the behavior of medical professionals and staff.

So given the combination of being unique, chronic, and socially-based, the Minority Stress Model illustrates that social conditions characterized by prejudice and stigma predispose marginalized individuals to greater exposure to stress compared with individuals who are not members of marginalized communities.  In turn, the excess exposure to stress can cause adverse health outcomes.

Medical providers and other health service providers may not be able to remove the experience of Minority Stress from the lives of the patients and community members that they serve, but they can certainly lessen the effects of Minority Stress on an individual’s overall health and wellness.  Research continues to indicate that building coping skills and social support, along with other forms of resilience, can counteract the impact of stress and lead to outcomes that support a patient’s health.

Works Consulted:

Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological bulletin, 129(5), 674.

Meyer, I. H. (2016). Does an improved social environment for sexual and gender minorities have implications for a new minority stress research agenda?. Psychology of sexualities review, 7(1), 81.

Mizock, L. and Hopwood, R. (2018). Economic challenges associated with transphobia and implications for practice with transgender and gender diverse individuals. Professional psychology: research and practice, 49(1), 65.

Testa, R., Habarth, J., Peta, J., Balsam, K., and Bockting, W. (2015). Development of the gender minority stress and resilience measure. Psychology of sexual orientation and gender diversity, 2(1), 65.

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