“Melanincholy”: A Qualitative Exploration of Youth Media Use, Vicarious Racism, and Perceptions of Health

Alyssa Cohen*, Patricia O. Ekwueme, Kaitlyn Ann Sacotte, Laiba Bajwa, Shawnese Gilpin, Nia Heard-Garris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: We sought to (1) characterize teens' experiences with news and social media, focusing on news depicting racism, (2) assess youth perceptions of how these experiences may impact their own health, and (3) explore how teens cope with racism encountered in media. We hypothesized that teens access news primarily through social media, and vicarious racism experienced via news increases negative perceptions of health. Methods: Eighteen teens (aged 13–19 years) were recruited to participate in focus group interviews (N = 4). These were recorded, transcribed, and coded using qualitative methods. Results: Youth spend much of each day online and frequently access social media, including news shared on these platforms. Many participants identified concerns surrounding “fake” news on social media. Participants reported encountering racially charged news and described their responses to these stories. Some reported feeling overwhelmed by racism in the news. Most participants perceived negative mood changes after exposure to racism in online news, although few associated this exposure with changes in their own health behaviors. Youth indicated that peer discussion was important for coping with vicarious racism exposure. Conclusions: This study provides insight into the way teens access and share information through social media, including news involving racism, and the effect that this information may have on them. Their vicarious experiences of racism in the news may be associated with feelings of desensitization and mood changes, with potential downstream effects on health. Peer support may help teens cope with vicarious racism. Longitudinal studies examining these exposures' health effects and opportunities for cross-sector intervention are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-293
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Adolescent health
  • News media
  • Racism
  • Social media
  • Vicarious racism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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