October is Black History Month in the UK. Ignite Life strives to ensure that its services are accessible to all despite any racial, economic, or social barriers that may be present. This blog post explores the link between racial discrimination and mental health. In particular, the challenges that black people in the UK face when trying to access mental health care.

 

A study, published in 2016, highlighted the correlation between racial discrimination and mental health by surveying thousands of households. From the data collected, it was found that around 26% to 35% of the studied ethnic minorities had experienced racism in one form or another. Examining the individuals who had experienced racism, the study found that the ethnic minorities who had experienced discrimination had poorer mental health than those who hadn’t. The study concluded its research by stating, “cumulative exposure to racial discrimination has incremental long-term effects on the mental health of ethnic minority people in the United Kingdom.”[1]

Research has also found that, in comparison to white men, black men in the UK are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a severe mental health condition.

It’s not only important to understand the link between mental health and racial discrimination, but it’s also vital to acknowledge the inaccessibility of mental health care for Black and ethnic minority people. Research shows that Black and ethnic minority groups are less likely to be referred to mental health services by their General Practitioners[2].

Bias, structural racism & barriers:

But it’s not only this inaccessibility that proves to be a barrier, it’s also the biases and structural differences within mental health care services that result in black people not getting the help that they need. Eche Egbuonu, a teacher at The Complete Works in London (at the time), was sectioned under the Mental Health Act (2007) for a medical assessment for his bipolar disorder. Usually, this assessment would take place in a hospital. Egbuonu was taken to a prison instead. In an article published by the BBC, Egbuonu described his experience as, “probably the worst thing they could have done to me in the state of mind that I was in.”[3]

Research shows that Black men are 4 times more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act (2007) than White men. This is more than likely due to racial biases and stereotypes that are deeply embedded in our society.Jacqui Dyer, a councillor in Lambeth, explained that there’s also a strong stigma within the Black community regarding mental health services. She stated that many people within the community believe that if you go into these services, “you die [there].” With cases like Egbuonu’s, this belief is only reaffirmed. Dyer stated that in order to dismantle this belief, it’s important that these services are changed.[4]

While it’s important to explore the link between race and mental health, the inaccessibility of mental health care for minorities, and the function that bias plays into the type of help Black and minority groups receive, it’s incredibly vital to acknowledge the direct effect that racial discrimination has on an individual’s mental health. Racism can cause racial trauma. Racial trauma, or race-based traumatic stress, is the emotional/mental distress that is caused by exposure to racial discrimination. The article ‘Racial Trauma: Theory, Research, and Healing: Introduction to the Special Issue’ describes racial trauma as “unique in that it involves ongoing individual and collective injuries due to exposure and reexposure to race-based stress.”[5]  Exposure to racism can cause severe distress, alienation, feelings of loneliness or otherness, and can lead to serious mental health conditions.

What can we do:

As individuals, there are many things we can do to show our support which will help combat institutional racism. Firstly, we must educate ourselves so when the opportunity arises, we are able to make a difference and understand the inequalities Black people face. Secondly, we must create inclusive spaces for Black people to access the support needed and at Ignite Life, we are always working towards creating a diverse and inclusive environment.

Written by: Ushiya Bhatti

A message from Ignite Life:

“At Ignite Life, we strive to create inclusive and accessible services for all. We acknowledge the barriers that disadvantaged and/or marginalised members of our community face when accessing support, specifically mental health support. Black people face multiple barriers when trying to access mental health support and we want to ensure we are working towards removing these barriers and creating a space people can receive the support they need.”

Resources:

  • Black Minds Matter (A charity connecting Black individuals with free mental health support)
  • Mind (A charity that provides mental health support and advice) helpline: 0300 123 3393
  • Shout 85258 (A free, confidential, 24/7 text messaging support service for anyone struggling)

References:

[1] Wallace S, Nazroo J, Bécares L. Cumulative effect of racial discrimination on the mental health of ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom. Am J Public Health. 2016;106(7):1294–300.

[2] Grey, Tracy, Hári Sewell, Gillian Shapiro, and Fahmida Ashraf. 2013. Mental Health Inequalities Facing UK

Minority Ethnic Populations: Causal Factors and Solutions. Journal of Psychological Issues in Organizational

Culture 3: 146–57.

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40495539

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40495539

[5] Comas-Díaz, L., Hall, G. N., & Neville, H. A. (2019). Racial trauma: Theory, research, and healing: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 74(1), 1-5.