Written by Nic Ferguson
We need to acknowledge the impact of racism
I know first-hand that racism can be felt in various ways. From subtle interpersonal interactions and open prejudicial statements, through to varying degrees of verbal and physical aggression; I’ve experienced them all. For many people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, the unpleasant reality of racism is a lived experience, which can also be felt through social or organisational structures. Sadly, some agencies fail to recognise this, and in doing so, seem unable to provide appropriate services to people from different ethnic origins or cultures.
Increasingly more research is showing that exposure to racism has a negative impact on the mental well-being of those from BAME communities. The evidence shows that racism is a stressor that can lead to problems like depression. Alongside social factors like poverty, lower educational outcomes, higher unemployment, and challenges with accessing and receiving health services, those of us in BAME groups are more likely to develop severe mental health problems like psychosis, than our white counterparts. Because of this, if you’re from the BAME community, it’s important to consider the impact of racism on your health, and more importantly, take steps to improve your well-being by seeking support.
The barriers to asking for help
If you’re from the BAME community, having acknowledged the impact of racism on your health, the next thing to consider is getting help. However, this can be challenging for a number of reasons including cultural stigma and misunderstanding, and distrust of professional services and agencies. In some BAME communities, it’s common for people to avoid conversations to do with mental or emotional well-being altogether. Similarly, in some cases, mental distress can be dismissed as a spiritual issue. Both attitudes are unhelpful for someone struggling and in need of help. In my own experience of growing up in a black family, I don’t recall having conversations about mental health. Neither do I remember seeing emotions acknowledged or being encouraged to make sense of the emotions I was experiencing. As a result, I paid very little attention to my feelings and the impact they were having on my well-being and relationships.
Within the UK, it’s no secret that people from minority groups have had a turbulent relationship with institutions such as the Criminal Justice System. And, with decades of ethnic inequalities, it’s evident these negative interactions have crossed over into our relationship with mental health services too. In an NHS report, ‘Black’, or ‘Black British’ people, were recorded as being four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act 2007 than ‘White’ people. Other reports have shown that people from BAME groups are most likely to first experience mental health services forcibly. And these experiences are either through encounters with the police or the judicial system, rather than through voluntary access in times of need.
As a result, some minority groups have developed a distrust of the agencies and institutions that are meant to provide the protection, justice, care and support needed to enhance their overall well-being. And, sadly, a combination of the real and perceived racism of services and institutions, and the challenges of cultural-based stigma about mental health, can lead to a hesitance to seek help when needed.
Having looked at the possible impact of racism on your well-being, and some of the barriers to getting the support you might need, here’s a few steps you could take:
● Consider where your experience of being in a minority group may have negatively impacted your mental well-being. Childline has some helpful information and advice on racism and racial bullying.
● Question any cultural attitudes or expectations that put barriers in place to you getting support for your mental well-being.
● Look for a suitable counsellor or psychotherapist to help you to explore ways of improving your mental well-being. BAATN, the Counselling Directory, and the BACP each have a list of trained professionals to choose from. Children and young people aged 9-21 living in Gloucestershire can contact TIC+ for online or face-to-face counselling.
● Increase your understanding of the importance of mental health and the steps you can take to improve yours. The Five Steps to Mental Wellbeing is a good place to start.
● Become an advocate for improving mental well-being by raising awareness
and speaking of your own experiences.
Your experiences of belonging to a minority group might be impacting your mental
health. If so, this is normal, as people from BAME communities are more at risk of
poor mental health than others. What’s most important now, is that you find the
support you need and start taking steps to improve your well-being.
If you live in Gloucestershire and are aged 9-21, you can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. TIC+ works hard at raising funds so they can arrange for a counsellor to see you for free, all you need to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to arrange an appointment. We know it can be hard to take that first step but, like the other young people we’ve helped, you’ll be so glad you did.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call Childline on 0800 1111, NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!