Psychologists in the helping professions have long accepted the idea that cognitions have implications for mental health and wellbeing. Community psychologists have further established the importance of context and systems in the etiology of mental health problems. In this paper, we argue that as a discipline that prioritizes social justice, community psychology should consider associations between cognitions about structural and systemic inequality and individual mental health, particularly in marginalized populations. As one illustration of this argument and its complexities, we asked if and to what degree mental health was concurrently associated with adolescents’ beliefs in societal fairness (i.e., system-justifying beliefs), attending to gender differences. Our findings were informed by a sample of 196 adolescents residing in detention facilities (49.50% girls; 51.75% Black/Caribbean, 21.68% multiracial; 15.38% Hispanic/Latine; 27.98% LGBTQ+). These youth represent an understudied group in the research literature addressing fairness beliefs and their influence on wellness. Results suggested that boys were more likely to endorse societal fairness compared to girls, but these beliefs were unrelated to their mental health. However, we found a significant gender moderation such that girls who perceived society to be fair reported lower levels of internalizing and externalizing mental health problems. We discuss implications for theory, research, and intervention.
Perceiving fairness in an unfair world: System justification and the mental health of girls in detention facilities
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