The effects of racism
on mental health

10th June, 2020

“They’re putting a lot of confidence in you, and they’re trusting you.
It’s really important to listen to that”

Like other forms of discrimination, racism can lead to profound feelings of pain, harm and humiliation. The effects of racism can also manifest in several overlapping forms, such as personal, cultural, structural and institutional. In the UK alone, there are a wide range of persistent inequalities for people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, which elevates disadvantage across all aspects of society compared to those from other backgrounds. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has highlighted that individuals from these minorities are more likely to experience poverty, poorer educational outcomes, unemployment, and contact with criminal justice systems. Each are risk factors for exacerbating and developing mental illnesses.

Here are some of the effects of racism on mental health and wellbeing: 


Evidence suggests that racism and xenophobia is linked to loneliness. People who feel they ‘belong’ to their community are less likely to feel excluded. British Red Cross published Barriers to Belonging: An Exploration of Loneliness Among People from Black, Asian and Minority Ethic (BAME) Backgrounds (2019), drawn from almost 1,000 respondents of which 69% were BAME. 67% shared they felt they didn’t belong to their community, compared to just 16% who felt they did.


Survival mode is a fear-based mode of thinking you enter when your fight-or-flight response is triggered. It’s a mentality that leads you to attack or retreat during moments of stress rather than communicate and embrace. This activation of fear throws our brains and bodies out of balance and into non-homeostasis, or survival mode. The opposite of non-homeostasis, is a state of physical and psychological balance, in which we feel safe.


The experiences of individual, institutional, and cultural racism is largely predictive of post-traumatic stress symptoms. Many Black people are born into a life of trauma incurred by a long history of brutal inhumanity, repression, violence and injustice that continues to grip Black men and women daily. It can facilitate long-lasting physical and psychological threats that produce feelings of anxiety, depression, fear and post-traumatic stress disorder.


Psychologist Devin English produced a small survey with 101 Black Students, aged 13 to 17, in Washington, D.C. to see whether racism affected teens’ mental health. The surveys, lasting two weeks, asked about more than 60 types of experiences that might indicate racism, ranging insults, bullying, microaggressions, physical assaults and more. 1,139 daily surveys were completed, reporting 5,606 experiences of discrimination, averaging almost five events a day. After the two weeks, symptoms had worsened in students who experienced frequent real-world discrimination.

If able, those affected should speak up and say how you feel, particularly with trusted friends, family or people in your community. Non-Black/people of colour people can and should speak out against racism. It’s important to explore how you may have benefited from privileges based on your race, and that we are honest with ourselves.

Psychologist Devin English mentions that if someone talks with you about an experience of racial discrimination, “they’re putting a lot of confidence in you, and they’re trusting you. It’s really important to listen to that”.

It is not the individual that is to blame, rather the society around them, with the battle against racial oppression an ongoing one.

British Red Cross, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Psychology Today, Science News For Students, New York Times

#BlackMindsMatter #Anti-Racism

uoh 2020 — @uok.hun