Sticks and Stones … But What If Words Do Hurt?, with Yvonne Lei

Season 4Episode 2February 10, 2022

Yvonne Lei joins us to discuss research into interpersonal discrimination and its effects on mental health, substance use, and well-being in young adults.

Over the past 18 months, systemic and structural discrimination have received widespread—and, let’s face it, much-needed—media attention and public discussion. But what hasn’t had the same level of attention is interpersonal discrimination. The nasty comments. The othering. The exclusion—not at the hands of a faceless bureaucracy, but in our own communities, between individual people. Now, many of us were raised with a sort of “sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can never hurt us” sort of bravado. But what if words, and actions, about our personal appearance, race, gender, and age did create long-term harm? What if instead of simple slights that we should shrug off, these were recognized as vulnerabilities for the development of mental illness or substance abuse in young adulthood? We spoke with Yvonne Lei, a medical student at UCLA and lead researcher on a study of interpersonal discrimination and its effects on young adults. 

Topics in this episode:

  • Interpersonal discrimination (1:43)
  • Adolescents and interpersonal discrimination (6:47)
  • The ah-ha moment (12:39)
  • Research findings (14:33)
  • Frequency and cumulative effect (19:24)
  • Lasting effects (21:45)
  • Implications for health care professionals (25:53)
  • This is our workforce (28:10)
  • A call to action (32:24)


Yvonne Lei is a medical student at David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles

Lei, Yvonne, et al. “Discrimination and subsequent mental health, substance use, and well-being in young adults.” Pediatrics 148.6 (2021).

Discrimination increases risk for mental health issues in young adults, UCLA-led study finds,” by Evelyn Tokuyama, UCLA Newsroom, November 7, 2021

Adam B. Schickedanz, MD

For more information about National Children’s Alliance and the work of Children’s Advocacy Centers, visit our website at And join us on Facebook at One in Ten podcast.

Transcript to come.