March 19, 2021
Dr. Ruth Hackett and Dr. Amy Ronaldson
In the last year, there has been an increased spotlight on racism and discrimination. To what extent, however, does racism and discrimination have relevance to mental health and wellbeing, and to those working in early intervention. As part of the events to mark March 21st International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination we asked Dr. Ruth Hackett and Dr. Amy Ronaldson from King’s College London to share with us recent findings on the relationship between racial discrimination and mental health from a UK perspective.
On International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it is crucial we acknowledge that racism is not only a human rights issue, but one that can have lasting legacy on health. Not just physical health but mental health also. This is what research recently published in BMC Public Health has shown.
Against a backdrop of the Brexit vote, hostility towards migrants, and the growth in right-wing nationalist movements, racial discrimination is sadly on the rise in the UK. Evidence from the US has shown that racial discrimination can negatively impact health, but the makeup of ethnic minority groups in the UK differs to the US, with those of South Asian backgrounds forming the largest minority group. This is why co-authors Ruth Hackett and Amy Ronaldson thought it was important to understand links between racial discrimination and health in the UK.
In a cohort of over 4800 people who took part in the UK Household Longitudinal Study, one in five participants from an ethnic minority group reported racial discrimination. These individuals were more likely to have increased psychological distress and poorer mental functioning two years later. Moreover, they were more likely to rate their physical health as poor and to report suffering from a limiting long-standing illness, regardless of their health at the time they experienced discrimination.
More research is needed to understand the pathways linking racial discrimination and health to facilitate the development of targeted early interventions. But prevention is better than cure – we also need to educate, raise awareness, and promote activism to bring about the change required for the elimination of racial discrimination. We must target the structural macro-level forces that shape the position of ethnic minorities in society such as inequalities in healthcare and the unfair distribution of determinants of health such as education, employment, and housing.
Dr Ruth Hackett is a Lecturer in Health Psychology at King’s College London. Her research aims to elucidate how psychological factors such as stress can influence health. Currently, she is looking at discrimination as a form of stress and as a risk factor for mental and physical illness.
Dr Amy Ronaldson is a Research Associate in the Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, King’s College London. She is using large-scale routine clinical datasets to understand the impact of mental health treatment on the development of clusters of multimorbidity across different ethnic groups in South London.
You can follow Ruth on Twitter @hackett_ruth
You can follow Amy on Twitter @DrRonaldson