Racism and mental health are closely linked. Discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity can cause or worsen mental health conditions. It can also make accessing effective treatment more difficult. Racism refers to the systemic oppression of certain racial groups. This can manifest in several ways. Stereotyping, hate crimes, and economic inequality are just a few examples of the impact that racism has, all of which can have a detrimental effect on mental health.
Racism also affects a person’s or group’s ability to access resources, including mental health treatment. This occurs for many reasons, but in the United States, economic disparity and health insurance are significant factors.
Although rates of mental health conditions are similar across white, Black, and Latinx adults in the U.S., rates of mental health treatment are not.
The amount of Black and Latinx people with a mental health condition who received treatment was significantly lower than that of white people. The NIMH did not investigate why this was the case, but it is likely that there are multiple obstacles preventing people from accessing support.
Health insurance can be one such obstacle. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2012–2014, 38.8% of Latinx people, 33.2% of Native American or Alaskan people, and 22% of Black people aged 18–64 had no health insurance coverage. The figure for white people was 13.7%.
Gender can also influence how people of color experience racism.
For example, one small 2014 study suggests that some Black women identify with the “strong Black woman” stereotype, which includes characteristics such as resilience, self-sacrifice, and self-reliance.
Although these can be positive traits, the researchers say that moderate or high identification with this stereotype correlated with increased levels of stress and depressive symptoms. This may be due to the pressure that this stereotype places on Black women to be strong at all times.
Additionally, Black women can face discrimination on the basis of their gender and their race simultaneously. In 2017, 3.7% of Black women experienced severe psychological distress, compared with 2.6% of Black men.
Racism impacts mental health in a variety of ways, and it may cause or worsen a number of mental health conditions. It can also cause racial trauma, which affects both individuals and communities.
Seeking support from people who understand what it is like to experience racism may help reduce the negative impact of racism on mental health.
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