When I started my “what is” series, there were a number of terms that I thought were deserving of a post in the series, because they are viewed as social justice jargon that many don’t understand. One term I didn’t know too much about, but have come to learn more about, is minority stress.
What is minority stress, and why is it so important to know what it is?
A concise definition I’ve seen for the term is that it “refers to the way that individuals from underrepresented or stigmatized groups experience a number of stressors that directly relate to a minority identity.” Those stressors come from experiences of rejection, discrimination, and other forms of marginalization.
However, it is more than a term—it is a framework.
When the framework first came to prominence in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was one to help explain how certain minority groups experience disproportionate poor mental health outcomes. The rise in prominence of this notion was significant in terms of coming to a greater understanding of why sexual minorities (people who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual) experienced a high number of mental health issues—issues that can be attributed to stressors such as rejection, hiding, internalized homophobia, external homophobia, and more. With this minority stress framework, it is easier to see how such stressors lead to the poor mental health outcomes.
More recently, the idea of minority stress has expanded to also explain how certain other minority groups experience disproportionate poor physical health outcomes—not just poor mental health outcomes. The expansion of thinking about how minority stress may manifest itself was significant in terms of coming to a greater understanding of why sexual minorities also experience a high number of poor physical health outcomes—issues that can be attributable to the same stressors that cause the poor mental health outcomes as well.
While the study of health outcomes for sexual minorities has played a prominent role in understanding minority stress, it must be pointed out that the issue of minority stress for explaining disproportionate poor mental and physical health outcomes among certain people and groups is relevant to many other communities. A few such communities that come to mind are some indigenous communities, some communities of color, and some immigrant communities.
It must also be pointed out that someone can be in multiple minority communities and therefore experience minority stress (with its relevant stressors) for all of the communities they are in. One of the more prominent articles on this subject explored minority stress as experienced by LGBT people of color, but there are other combinations of minority identity that can have the impacts of what the aforementioned article calls multiple minority stress.
I’ve thrown around a lot of terms in this post—minority stress, stressors, multiple minority stress—but does this all matter? And if so, why?
It absolutely matters, on both a personal level and a policy level.
On a personal level, stressors that lead to the experiences of minority stress for a wide group of minority communities should be a call to self-examination, to see whether we act in ways that contribute to that minority stress for our friends of color, for our friends with disabilities, for our friends in the LGBTQ+ community, and so on. And if we find that we do, it’s a call to change our actions. That self-examination may not be easy and may result in letting go of long-held beliefs about certain people or groups of people, but some people’s well-being depends on it.
On a policy level, I would only hope that the stressors which lead to the experiences of minority stress would be a call to action for elected officials to see whether any policies or laws contribute to minority stress for any marginalized communities. And then, if any policies do contribute in such a negative way, curtail them.
Overall, a greater understanding of minority stress and its impacts will hopefully lead to actions from all that will, in the long run, reduce those stressors that lead to the stress. That is my hope, and that is my dream.