Repeated racial discrimination inflicts maximum damage to mental health, suggests study

Racism is not restricted to a particular geography, society or ethnic group. In major countries of the world, a certain section of people faces racial prejudice leading to inequality and marginalization. Such people have a higher chance of being afflicted with health issues, such as hypertension, heart disease, stress, depression, cancer, premature births and even disparities in infant mortality.

Several studies in the past have highlighted the negative impact of racism on the mental and physical health of minorities. A new study by researchers from the University of Manchester, England has highlighted, for the first time, the damaging impact of repeated racial discrimination on mental and physical health on ethnic minorities in the U.K.

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health in July 2016, analyzed the cumulative impact of racial abuse over a period of five years, from 2009 to 2013. It focused on incidence of abuse, including being yelled at, being subject to bodily harm, avoiding a place, or feeling insecure. The researchers used the Ethnicity Minority Boost Sample of Understanding Society, a database which maintains key information about the socio-economic circumstances, attitudes, behaviors and health and selected 40,000 families in the U.K., including 4,000 minority households.

The researchers found that there was a significant increase in mental health issues affecting ethnic minorities who had been subject to recurring incidents of racism as compared to ethnic minorities who were not subject to racism. Factors which contributed to mental issues were the fear of avoiding spaces and feelings of being unsafe.

Initial exposure to racism and mental health

According to Dr. Laia Bécares, lead author of the study and a lecturer in Social Statistics at the University of Manchester’s School of Social Sciences and in the Center on Dynamics of Ethnicity, the results imply that prolonged previous exposure to racial abuse or knowledge about racial abuse suffered by others can have a sustained negative impact on the mental health of ethnic minorities, long after the initial exposure to such discrimination. Ethnic minorities who are constantly reading or viewing news concerning racism are bound to face long-term mental health issues.

Bécares adds that the research is instrumental in highlighting the high degree of health risks among ethnic minorities due to racism. According to her, studies that evaluate the link between racism and health, or investigate exposure at defined time periods, underrate the harmful effects of racism on the mental health of ethnic minorities and its contribution to ethnic disparities related to health.

Even a perceived threat of racist behavior is sufficient to increase stress levels in the body. People living under the constant threat of racism have also been known to adopt addictive habits such as smoking and substance abuse. They have poor nutritional levels and are reluctant to seek medical help for their health conditions. Ethnic minorities under the constant fear of a future threat are cautious at all times that’s why their physical and emotional responses to the perceived threat increase stress levels.

As per a 2016 survey by the American Psychological Association, the average stress level for discriminated individuals stood at an average of six on a 10-point scale. If the stress-response system continues to be in a heightened state of activity, it can lead to anxiety and depression and impair the ability to lead a productive life.

Recovery road map

It is imperative for the health officials and medical bodies to impart essential services to all communities alike. No discrimination or stigmatization should take place in providing treatment and making lives better.

If you know someone who is suffering from mental health conditions and requires professional help, contact the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline to get access to the evidence-based mental health counseling programs in the U.S. You can call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online with our experts to find one of the best mental health rehabilitation centers near you.