How has the COVID pandemic affected Black mental health?

AN ONLINE event which will discuss the impact of the pandemic on young Black, Asian and minority ethnic people’s mental health is to be held next week.

The Coalition of Race Equality Organisations (CORE) will host ‘The Forgotten Generation’ on Monday 23rd, exploring how job losses, isolation and the passing of loved ones amid Covid-19 has affected young people of colour.

The event, which will run from 6.30pm to 8pm, will feature a range of guest speakers, including representatives from national charities and support groups.

It comes amid growing debate over whether or not mental illness has a disproportionate effect on people of colour – a conversation which has only increased in the wake of the upheaval caused by Covid.

Speakers at The Forgotten Generation include Sandeep Saib, co-director at Happy Heads and a committee member at Rethink – two organisations which aim to support those struggling with their mental health.

Sandeep argued that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are particularly at risk when it comes to mental illness, with a range of factors involved.

“People from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, worryingly, suffer higher rates of mental health problems than all other groups combined”, she claimed.

“From being heavily stigmatised, to being unaccounted for in data and statistics, to facing countless amounts of challenges and racism, we can no longer pretend and ignore this underrepresented group.

“It is therefore imperative for us to wake up, and it is about time that we take action and do what we can, collectively as humanity, to help and support them at all costs – to be represented, to be heard and to just be.”

Annie Gibbs, the founder of Amour Destine – a UK-based organisation which aims to “unite, inspire and empower women and girls to create their own destiny” – will also be speaking at the event.

She said: “Addressing the mental health traumas experienced by many within our community is crucial in securing a hopeful future, where the voices of those most in need of accessing the right support and services will be heard.

“Mental health is an issue in our community which often leads to people struggling for long periods of time, as well as being misdiagnosed due to lack of cultural and trauma-informed approaches of services.”

Keval Sachdev, of youth support charity Aikyam UK, added that a lack of funding is a big issue facing organisations like his, and only exacerbates the challenges that young people of colour go through.

“I think we are under-resourced in the UK when it comes to mental health issues faced by youths – we are overstretched and underfunded”, he said.

Keval added that education is key: “Teaching mental wellness to youths helps them to think clearly, develop socially, learn new skills, develop self-confidence, higher self-esteem and a healthy emotional outlook on life. Ultimately, early education on personal mental wellness will only benefit our future."

Racism, intergenerational trauma and inequality can take their toll on people of colour and leave them more at risk of suffering from mental health issues.

When this is coupled with things such as stigma and cultural taboos, as well as internalised racism and self-hatred, it is easy to see why some have made the argument that being Black or Brown can leave you more vulnerable to mental illness.

One British-Pakistani university student, who wished to remain anonymous, said feeling like he “didn’t belong” played a part in him having to take time out of his studies due to depression and anxiety.

“It was difficult. I didn’t feel good about anything, I was in a bad place”, he said.

“As ethnic minorities, we always get told how to feel about ourselves – whether it’s by the media, by the history books or just by society in general”, the 25-year-old psychology student, who was born and raised in Leeds but now studies in London, added.

“Very little of it is positive. We are always told that we are the ‘other’, that we are less than.

“When that narrative gets constantly fed into you, from childhood, you can start to believe it. It affects your self-esteem and your mental health.

“I felt like I didn’t belong, maybe because this country can sometimes make you feel that way, even if you were born here.

“You feel like an outcast. You feel like because you aren’t white, you aren’t as good as everyone else. Even though you know that it shouldn’t be about that – but, unfortunately, sometimes it just is.”

Our identity plays a big part in how we see ourselves. Social identity theory, which was developed by social psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner, proposed that there is a close link between our sense of identity and our self-esteem.

The theory also argues that people often make comparisons between our ‘in-group’ – the social group we identify with – and opposing ‘out-groups’, in a bid to improve our sense of self-worth. This also ties in with Hogg and Abrams’ self-esteem hypothesis, which also argues that there is a correlation between identity and self-esteem.

In a world where labels and definitions are so prevalent, being Black and British, being Pakistani and English, or being Scottish and Caribbean may leave you stuck at a crossroads. Perhaps your Indian family sees you as not Asian enough, while British society sees you as not British enough – which can sometimes lead to an internal conflict.

“When you grow up in between two different cultures, it can create a lot of anxiety”, said one British-Nigerian student at the University of Sheffield, who also wished to be anonymous.

“I think the key to being happy is to know who you are – but for me, there have been times when I didn’t know who I was, so I felt depressed and like I wasn’t good enough.”

Discrimination and subconscious biases within mental health services are also factors which can make the problem worse, with the 22-year-old student adding that people of colour who may be struggling with their mental health are sometimes looked at with fear, rather than with sympathy.

“When I’ve tried to speak to people about my mental health, I feel like, as a Black woman, they don’t take me as seriously as they would if I were a white woman”, she said.

“You have things like the angry black woman stereotype – they see you as someone with anger issues or attitude problems, rather than as someone who needs support.

“It’s really hard to get the right help when no one takes you seriously, especially when it is because of your race.”

Research by the mental health charity Mind has sparked further debate on this issue.

Mind reported that Black people are “40 per cent more likely” to “access treatment for mental health issues through a police or criminal justice route”, while also finding that Black people were “less likely to receive psychological therapies, more likely to be compulsorily admitted for treatment and more likely to be on a medium or high secure ward”.

It also found that Black people were more likely to be “subject to seclusion or restraint” – with the figure standing at 56.2 per 100,000 people for Black Caribbean people, compared to 16.2 per 100,000 people for white people.

The charity added: “We must stress that there is a hugely complex picture here, but it seems undeniable that Black people get to the sharper end of treatment, in the more uncomfortable ways.”

Dialogue on both racism and mental health has increased significantly over recent years. The murder of George Floyd and the time for reflection brought about by the coronavirus pandemic has led to both issues being widely discussed in the mainstream media.

However, there is still a long way to go, British university students say.

“There is more conversation around the issue now, but we need action, and not just words”, said the University of Sheffield student.

“I think the first step towards overcoming this problem is for services to acknowledge it – they need to come out and say that if you are a person of colour, you could be more likely to suffer, because of these factors.

“Not all minorities suffer from mental illness, and not only minorities suffer from mental illness – but the evidence is clear that there are structures in place that makes it harder for us, and something needs to be done about it.”

For more information on The Forgotten Generation, and to book tickets, visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/core-covid-19-black-asian-and-minority-ethnic-youth-mental-health-event-tickets-165399834357

 

 

Yusef Alam is a 23-year-old journalist and writer from Leeds. He is a sociology graduate and has a particular interest in race, racism and identity. He is British-Pakistani and often cites his own personal experiences as inspiration for his work, hoping to break a few stereotypes in the process.