The mental health impact of racism

New research from England has confirmed suspicions that repeated racial discrimination can harm the mental health of victims.

A team at the University of Manchester studied the accumulation of racial attacks such as being shouted at, physically assaulted or feeling unsafe because of ethnicity.

man showing fist near refugee“This findings would suggest that previous exposure to racial discrimination over the life course, or awareness of racial discrimination experienced by others, can continue to affect the mental health of ethnic minority people, even after the initial exposure to racial discrimination,” says lead author Dr Laia Becares.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, showed mental health problems were significantly higher among people who’d experienced repeated racial discrimination when compared to ethnic minorities who didn’t experience racism.

Studies in the past have drawn a link between racial discrimination and poor mental health but this is the first to analyse the impact of repeated attacks over time.

“Studies that assess the association between racial discrimination and health, or examine exposure at a certain point in time, underestimate the harm of racial discrimination on the mental health of ethnic minority people and its contribution to ethnic inequalities in health,” says Dr Becares.

A sense of feeling unsafe due to racial hatred had the biggest cumulative effect on mental health.

Dr Becares says the findings show why discrimination is also a health issue: “We see how the more racism that ethnic minority people experience, the more psychological distress they suffer from.”