RESEARCHERS have called on the government to prioritise funding towards analysing the impact of racism on mental health, saying countries such as the US were “way further ahead” in this area.
A study by the Centre for Mental Health and King’s College London found that both past and present experiences of racism can affect mental health across generations of a family.
Participants said they found themselves in a “constant battle” in their daily experiences of racism, which researchers said had “far-reaching” impact on families.
“We found quite a lot of research that is based in America, which suggests that when parents experience racism, there are downstream associations with negative outcomes among their children,” said research lead, Dr Yasmin Ahmadzadeh, postdoctoral research associate at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London.
“We wanted to ask people in the UK whether they felt like this was something that was happening to them. We heard that when parents experience racism, children do bear some of the negative consequences, because children witness their parents experiencing racism, but also because parents start to raise their children in a way to protect them from racism.
“That then means that children are exposed to this idea of their race, their differences and their risks from a really young age.
” The report, released last Tuesday (10), found that racism impacts the mental health of both the parents and children and their relationship, even if it was only one of them who had experienced racism.
Teenagers described growing up in a British society “biased” against them and their parents, which they hope will change.
Meanwhile, parents grappled with how racism impacts their family and teaching children to adapt and cope.
“We heard how these experiences have been going on for generations,” Dr Ahmadzadeh said. “Parents had been really trying to change things for their children so that their children didn’t have the experiences the parents had when they were younger.
“But, actually, they felt like this intergenerational cycle was ongoing, and children were starting to realise the things they were experiencing that their parents had also experienced when they were younger. It felt like this constant battle that feels like there’s no end in sight.”
Dr Ahmadzadeh added: “When we say intergenerational, people often think downwards from the older people to the younger people, but actually it’s also upwards and that’s something that we show across mental health research that children’s mental health impacts parents.
“You have to remember to think in both directions and that’s this kind of family system, family wide approach to thinking about how everyone impacts everyone.
”According to the NHS, people from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities are at higher risk of developing a mental health problem in adulthood.
A 2018 report by the Synergi Collaborative Centre found that experiences of racism have been linked to increased likelihood of developing depression, hallucinations and delusions; and if physical assault is involved, post-traumatic stress.
Kadra Abdinasir, associate director of policy at the Centre for Mental Health, told Eastern Eye the impact of racism on the mental health of BAME communities is “downplayed”.
She added that it doesn’t help when senior figures like prime minister Rishi Sunak make blanket statements such as the “UK isn’t a racist country”.
“Unfortunately, the last few years, we’ve seen that there’s been a lot of rhetoric to downplay the impact of racism at national level,” said Abdinasir.
“We saw it at the party conferences, all the rhetoric around immigration, race and the idea of wokeness. All of these are things are very challenging and go against the debate we’re trying to have around racism and mental health.
“There’s decades of evidence that proves otherwise. We know from all our work with communities, just how real and damaging it is. It’s not really something we feel we actually even have to prove.
“It’s really important that the government takes a stand and has a strong commitment towards tackling racism and discrimination at a strategic level.”
Abdinasir said there are immediate changes that can be made to tackle the impact of racism on mental health. “We want all the services that work with children, with families to really understand the effects of racism and how that might influence children and families’ behaviours, but also for them to really embed culturally responsive approaches,” said Abdinasir.
“One way they can do this is working collaboratively with communities to design these services in the first place, and also investing in projects and initiatives that are led by the community because through Covid, we’ve learned just how important those types of community relationships are.”
According to data provided to Sky News, British Asians are less likely to access mental health services compared to their white counterparts.
In the white population, 4,030 per 100,000 people access NHS secondary mental health services. This figure comes down to 2,195 per 100,000 for Asians.
Dr Ahmadzadeh suggested a lack of diversity within the support system plays a part in south Asians not accessing treatment and has called for a more “nuanced and tailored” approach to treatment services for these communities.
“There needs to be diversity among the support profession. People need to be to receive support from someone who understands what they have been through,” said Dr Ahmadzadeh.
“The support available also needs to include recognition of impact of racism – having that on the table from the beginning as an experience that could have affected you.
“We also need to think about the types of therapies we offer and what works better for people in different cultures. The therapies that are currently developed have mostly been developed for white European populations.”
When asked for a response to the lack of funding for research into racism and mental health, the Department of Health and Social Care DHSC pointed to the general support for mental health and a Cabinet Office/ Government Equalities Office report on tackling racial and ethnic disparities published in March.
‘Academia in UK a white space’
THIS is the first project the Dr Yasmin Ahmadzadeh has led and she conceded her determination to do this research was borne out of frustration at the lack of data on the issue, writes Sarwar Alam.
“I applied for the funding for this project out of my sadness that in mental health research, we’ve mainly focused on white populations and have not asked questions about the impact of racism on mental health,” said Dr Ahmadzadeh.
“Academia in the UK and worldwide is a white space. The money is concentrated within white majority societies,” she said. “When it’s mainly white people who are coming up with the research questions and designing studies and recruiting people, there’s going to be a skewness towards white culture and the type of people who sign up to take part in that research.
Kadra Abdinasir added that racism itself is a factor in the lack of funding for research into the impact of racism on mental health. “If the people who make decisions about research funding or create these strategic programmes don’t really appreciate or have lived experience of racism themselves, then it’s just unfortunately something that isn’t prioritised,” she said.
Poppy Jaman, global CEO for the MindForward Alliance, wants to see immediate action as mental health has been underfunded for too long.
“Nuanced research is helpful, but it’s also a way of not making the bigger investment in interventions and innovations,” Jaman told Eastern Eye.
“Racism and mental health trauma related work is well practised in the USA, Germany, to name a few. What we need is out there, now we need action.
“What we need is mental health resourcing in every system; schools, universities, workplace, healthcare etc. We need to educate people, understand ways we can self-help and increase the mental health workforce that are a necessary means to the goal of a self-resilient nation.”
The report called on the government to commit to tackling all forms of racism through a cross-government strategy.
‘My son was driven to feel suicidal’
MALA, 53, is the mother of two boys with autism. She described the impact of racism on on her and her eldest son to Eastern Eye.
“I grew up in the 1970s, which was quite a hostile environment in Britain. I’ve experienced so much racism, but what I experienced then was one thing; what I went through with my eldest son, it just proved to me that nothing has really changed.”
Mala’s sons have autism, ADHD and dyspraxia. She herself is neurodiverse.
After fighting through tribunals to get her eldest into a specialist school, Mala said she was left “devastated” by the way he was treated.
“He was happy there for three years. Then there was a change of management. And for the first time, in a very long time, I felt racism.
“He was singled out completely. He was actually driven to feel suicidal because of the most inappropriate behaviour towards him.
“We are talking about staff calling him the P word? Locking him in rooms. One member of staff said, ‘your mum’s a prostitute’. My son came home and goes, ‘mum what’s a prostitute?’ He was 13 or 14 at the time. I could tell you about a hundred more situations.”
Mala approached the Department for Education (DfE), the local authority, the teaching regulation authority and Ofsted, among others, but was told, “we don’t deal with racism in education”. A YMCA report in 2020 found that 95 per cent of black people reported they have heard and witnessed the use of racist language at school and 49 per cent said racism was the biggest barrier to attaining success in school.
Earlier this year, education minister Nick Gibb refused to force schools to record and report racist bullying incidents, insisting that headteachers already had enough guidance to deal with matters and were regulated by Ofsted.
Mala insisted that racist incidents needed to be recorded and strategies needed to be put in place at a national level to support students who were suffering from racism.