Exploring Pathways Among Discrimination and Health Among Somali Young Adults


Immigrant groups in the United States have long experienced challenges to community inclusion and participation such as experiences of discrimination and victimization.

Today, however, we are experiencing unprecedented levels of such experiences.  For Somali young adults who are black, Muslim immigrants, these experiences may be linked to their race, religion or migration status.

This has been compounded by historical and recent events linked to aspects of Somali identity and culture creating a socio-historical moment in which young Somalis face an unprecedented threat of discrimination and mistreatment.

While there is growing evidence on the adverse effect of discrimination on health, less is known about the experiences of immigrant groups and the ways in which discrimination and experiences of racism across multiple sectors of public life relate to mental health and well-being; what factors mediate these relationships; and how immigrants understand and make meaning of these experiences as well as their relationships to their mental health and well-being.


This mixed-methods proposal builds on a decade-long community-based participatory research program led by Dr. Ellis, and partnered with Dr. Alisa Lincoln, Ms. Abdi, a team of inter-disciplinary researchers, and leaders from Somali communities.

Through this community-research partnership, our team has developed unprecedented datasets. We believe we have the largest longitudinal empirical database of psychosocial factors of Somali youth in the world.


The broad goal of this project is to expand our knowledge of the relationships among experiences of discrimination and health outcomes for young Somali adults, contribute to a research trajectory aimed at developing strategies and interventions to disrupt these associations, and mitigate disparities in mental health and health outcomes experienced by immigrant young adults.

This will be accomplished through three specific aims which first test a theoretical model of the associations between multiple co-occurring experiences of discrimination (i.e. daily discrimination, life events discrimination, discrimination by teachers, and negative interaction with police) and mental health (symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and depression, and substance use) in Wave 1 of our existing data set.

Next, we propose to test whether the theoretical model explaining the associations between co-occurring forms of discrimination, social marginalization and mental health developed in Aim 1explains symptoms of mental illness over time using multiple waves of data.

Finally, we propose to conduct additional qualitative interviews in three U.S. cities to explore Somali young adults’ understanding of the health issues of concern to them and their communities, the ways they make meaning of experiences of discrimination and racism and how these relate to their health and well-being.

Project Team

Heidi Ellis - Boston Children's Hospital

Heidi Ellis
Principal Investigator
Boston Children’s Hospital

Alisa Lincoln - Institute for Health Equity and Social Justice Research, Northeastern University

Alisa K Lincoln
Northeastern University