Perceived discrimination as a modifier of health, disease, and medicine: empirical data from the COVID-19 pandemic

Moriah E. Thomason, Cassandra L. Hendrix, Denise Werchan, Natalie H. Brito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasing reports of long-term symptoms following COVID-19 infection, even among mild cases, necessitate systematic investigation into the prevalence and type of lasting illness. Notably, there is limited data regarding the influence of social determinants of health, like perceived discrimination and economic stress, that may exacerbate COVID-19 health risks. Here, 1,584 recovered COVID-19 patients that experienced mild to severe forms of disease provided detailed medical and psychosocial information. Path analyses examined hypothesized associations between discrimination, illness severity, and lasting symptoms. Secondary analyses evaluated sex differences, timing of infection, and impact of prior mental health problems. Post hoc logistic regressions tested social determinants hypothesized to predict neurological, cognitive, or mood symptoms. 70.6% of patients reported presence of one or more lasting symptom after recovery. 19.4% and 25.1% of patients reported lasting mood or cognitive/memory problems. Perceived discrimination predicted increased illness severity and increased lasting symptom count, even when adjusting for sociodemographic factors and mental/physical health comorbidities. This effect was specific to stress related to discrimination, not to general stress levels. Further, patient perceptions regarding quality of medical care influenced these relationships. Finally, illness early in the pandemic is associated with more severe illness and more frequent lasting complaints. Lasting symptoms after recovery from COVID-19 are highly prevalent and neural systems are significantly impacted. Importantly, psychosocial factors (perceived discrimination and perceived SES) can exacerbate individual health risk. This study provides actionable directions for improved health outcomes by establishing that sociodemographic risk and medical care influence near and long-ranging health outcomes. All data from this study have been made publicly available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number284
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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