Culture4 min read

This got us thinking: How does racism affect mental health and access to care?

Over the summer several articles discussed how psychological wounds reopened for Black people following the Black Lives Matter movement.

This got us thinking.

As World Mental Health Day approaches (October 10th), we looked at the link between race, racism and mental health. Research suggests that those who are exposed to racism may be more likely to experience mental health issues like psychosis and depression. Nearly 47% of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) employees experienced poor mental health relating to work, with a quarter of those saying that their ethnicity was a factor.

Freak out help by @rebeccahendin.

How people of color are treated in the mental health sector is another eye opener. Systemic racism means that some groups just can’t access the appropriate mental health care that they need. According to Mental Health America cultural incompetence of healthcare providers was a likely cause of underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis of mental illness in BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of colour). One report in the UK found that Black people were more likely to receive harsh treatment when being treated for mental health; “Treatment is more likely to be harsher or coercive [for Black people] than that received by white service users and characterized by a lower uptake of primary care, therapeutic, and psychological interventions.”

We don’t have all the answers when it comes to this difficult subject. But we have been pondering how people are treated differently when it comes to mental health. Here are some thoughts we’d like to share with you.

🏥 Bias and stereotypes in mental health care

Black men are four times more likely than white people to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act in the UK. Members of the Black community are also more likely to be medicated when being treated by mental health services. One psychiatric doctor, Donald Masi, has suggested that this is due to a misconception that Black people are more dangerous.

“Say there’s a petite 50-year-old white lady with a mental illness and a 6ft Black guy with the same illness. Both may be calm but may have episodes of irritability, frustration or aggression because they’re distressed from their mental illness. People are more likely to think that the Black guy is going to do something and hurt them, because essentially there is a cultural idea of Black people being the aggressor.” Dr Donald Masi

Subconscious biases exist in all of us, and they’re not the same as conscious prejudice. But when biases mean that people from different ethnic groups don’t get the same mental health treatment, then we need to act and unveil our biases.

Have you thought about bias in the health system before? You can read about the racial bias experienced by Black veterans when accessing mental health care in the US.

Mental health help by @sauts.

😔 Mental health needs going unmet

For people of color, finding the right professional to speak to or appropriate support can be difficult. In both the UK and US the majority of counsellors and psychotherapists are white, which may put Black folks off accessing some of these services if their therapist can’t understand their experiences. Studies have found that a Black person’s experiences can be misinterpreted by a white therapist, which can lead to dangerous misdiagnosis.

There’s also a concern over the unmet mental health needs for people of color in the criminal justice system. One British report found that more than 40% of children in the English and Welsh youth justice system were from BAME backgrounds, and over a third of these had a diagnosed mental health problem.

But, is the issue bigger than we know? The report also found that people from this group were less likely to have mental health problems or learning disabilities identified when entering the justice system. Why not spend some time this week reading the report to understand the treatment of BAME individuals in the UK criminal justice system.

Illustrate mental health by @rebeccahendin.

Mental health and the Black Lives Matter movement

Hundreds of years of racism have an effect on mental health. The Black Lives Matter movement has forced us to confront the psychological effects of racism. When someone experiences racism this can create an effect called “racial trauma” which in turn can lead to a whole host of mental health issues like depression, hypervigilance and chronic stress.

In this short video mental health advocate Asante Haughton and clinical therapist Leo D. Edwards discuss the effects of anti-Black racism on mental health. They also touch upon intergenerational trauma, where trauma experienced by one generation is passed down to another, who then continue to pass it on to further generations.

The effects of racism that we see today clearly won’t just affect us, but our children as well. That’s why it’s so vital we keep talking about it. The interview raises an interesting point about having difficult conversations and struggling to articulate what is happening in the world right now, especially to children. But even when it’s a struggle, we hope that people keep the conversation going.

✅ A challenge for your week ahead

Have a think about people whose mental health might be affected by what’s been happening with the Black Lives Matter movement. Is there anyone you can reach out to? You don’t need to be an armchair therapist, or know what’s going to happen next. Simply letting someone know that you’re available to talk if they want to can be enough.

Organizations can empower their employees to reach out to each other by encouraging a culture of vulnerability and trust, allowing everyone to bring their whole selves to work and talk about mental wellbeing.

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