Guidance for professionals in Gloucestershire working with young people with mental health or emotional wellbeing concerns
Racism and Mental Health
Being treated differently or unfairly because of our race, skin colour or ethnicity can negatively affect our mental health.
Racism can happen anywhere. It can happen at school, at work, or at home; it can happen online or outside; it can even happen within families and relationships. Sometimes racist abuse is obvious - verbal abuse about the way someone looks, stereotypes about how someone might behave, or physical violence and bullying, for example. Sometimes racism is part of the structures and systems that we live in. And sometimes racism is ‘subtle’ and difficult for other people to notice.
The important thing is how you see the situation and how it makes you feel. We can spend a lot of time wondering whether we have been badly or unfairly treated because of our skin colour, race or ethnicity, or for some other reason, and it’s not always totally clear. This can make us feel confused or even foolish for talking about our experiences, especially if the people we are talking to have never had to ask themselves these sorts of questions.
Sometimes, even when we are convinced we have experienced racist treatment, people around us might try to tell us we’ve got it wrong. This can feel very lonely and isolating. But remember, you are not alone and your feelings are valid.
It’s also valid if you feel that experiencing racism ‘indirectly’ has an effect on your mental health. Sometimes the things going on around us, to people just like us, can feel like they have happened to us and make us feel personally attacked, helpless, or like our lives don’t matter.
You might also be affected by:
- racism directed towards your family and loved ones
- constant negative headlines about a group you identify with or a country you have ties with
- misrepresentation or no representation in the media
- noticing worrying patterns of behaviour from the institutions you interact with (whether at your doctor’s surgery, at school, at work)
- reading statistics that show unfairness and inequality across the justice, health and education system
- people dismissing how we feel, telling us we’re overreacting, or denying there is a problem
Our experiences of being treated differently from others because of our skin colour, race or ethnicity can mean that we live with constant fear or anxiety. We might start to avoid doing the same things that other people simply do without thinking about. Some examples of this can include:
- speaking in another language, or with an accent, in public
- using public transport or going to certain public places alone where you could be a minority
- using your real name on a job application
- worrying about interacting with the police
- worrying about wearing the clothes we want to wear
- hiding parts of our identity, like our religion or culture
- sharing our worldview and taking part in topical discussions
- visiting places, or going on holiday to places, where racism has been reported
You might not even be aware that you are doing things like these. If you are constantly making decisions to protect yourself from others, this can affect how you feel. You might find it helpful to think about whether this is something you relate to. By figuring out where our feelings are coming from, it can make them easier to talk about.
It is normal if your experiences of racism – whether big or small, constant or one-off, direct or indirect – affect your self-esteem and/or make you feel angry, depressed or hopeless. It might feel difficult to believe, but things can get better.
Things can change, for you and for society. There are lots of people working hard every day to make a difference so that we can live in a fair and just world. You deserve to feel great about who you are, and to live without fear or prejudice.
If racism is affecting your mental health, there are steps you can take to get the help and support you deserve. Your feelings are valid, and you do not have to go through it alone.
Where to get help and support
Stop Hate UK
- confidential and accessible support for victims and witnesses of hate crime
- Call Hate Out : a 24-hour support service for young people under 18 experiencing or witnessing a hate crime
- call 0808 801 0576 or text 07717989025
Equality and Human Rights Commission
- Find out more about you rights under the Equality Act 2010.
Black Minds Matter
- connects Black individuals and families with professional mental health services across the UK
- send them a message on their website to be connected with a Black the