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Racism & Mental Health

What is racism?

Racism is an issue many people young and old have to face in daily life, and the Black Lives Matter movement has brought up a lot of feelings for young people of colour. Read on to find out more about what racism is and how it can affect your mental health.

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What is racism?
What is racism and racial discrimination?

What is racism and racial discrimination?

Racism is the act of being treated unfairly because of your race, skin colour or ethnicity. Racism can take many different forms. It can look like being called racist names or being singled out at school because of your race. If you are treated unfairly because of your race, this is called racial discrimination.

A crime that intentionally harms someone else because of their race is known as a hate crime and is illegal. If you are a victim or witness of hate crime, you can find confidential and accessible support at Stop Hate UK. For a 24-hour support service for young people under 18 experiencing or witnessing a hate crime, you can call 0808 801 0576 or text 07717989025.

Read on to learn about three types of racism and how they can affect your mental health.

Microaggressions

Microaggressions are subtle, often unintentional forms of racism that are experienced by people of colour on a day to day basis. Some examples include:

  • A person of colour being mistaken for a service worker or employee
  • Assuming a person of colour is not from the UK and can’t speak English well
  • A person of colour being followed around by security in a shop

Microaggressions can impact your mental health because they happen frequently and slowly over time and are often very difficult to recognise and respond to in the moment. Experiencing microaggressions daily can leave you feeling angry, with low mood, or low self-esteem.

Microaggressions
Racial Bias

Racial Bias

Racial Bias is a prejudgment or prejudice of a person or group of people because of their race in comparison to another race. This usually results in unfair treatment of the person of colour.

An example may be when an outspoken black female is pre-judged as being aggressive, whereas a female from a different culture who acts the same way is perceived as being passionate.

For more examples of racial bias and how it can affect your mental health, check out this video of a group of African-American boys and young men sharing their experiences.

Biases can also be against a person’s age, gender, identity, religion and many other things.  If your mental health has been impacted due to racial bias or any other form of bias, please read on for some helpful tips in the sections below.

Systemic racism

Systemic racism is discrimination that has become part of normal life in society or in an organisation. It can affect how you are educated, the law, access to health care, employment and much more.

This form of racism happens when resources, power and opportunities are distributed in a way that exclude people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.  For example, the lessons you are taught in schools often do not reflect the diversity, culture or the positive contributions from people of colour. This is because the curriculum has not been created by people from a range of culturally diverse backgrounds.

While you can’t challenge systemic racism by yourself, you can develop your skills and knowledge by connecting and learning from others, and finding ways to take care of your mental health.

Systemic racism

How do experiences of racism affect my mental health?

Experiences of racism, whether microaggressions, racial bias or systemic racism, can affect your mental health. Over time they can leave you feeling lonely, unconfident, and angry. It can lead to issues with anxiety and depression.

Do any of these feelings come up for you connected to experiences of racism?

If you are in need of urgent help, Get Help Now.

If you feel numb inside, have a continuous low mood, depression or low self-esteem, you can refer yourself to speak to someone. More
If you have experienced or witnessed a hate crime, access support at Stop Hate UK. If you feel numb inside, have a continuous low mood, depression or low self-esteem, you can refer yourself to speak to someone. More
If you are experiencing changes in your sleeping or eating habits, or changes to your mood and behaviour that feel out of the ordinary, you can refer yourself to speak to someone. More
If you are experiencing flashbacks or intrusive thoughts about a traumatic incident or think you might have PTSD, you can refer yourself to speak to someone. More
If you feel numb inside, have a continuous low mood, depression or low self-esteem, you can refer yourself to speak to someone More

Do I have something wrong with me?

Racism is a societal disease and is NOT the fault of any one person, especially not people of colour. Diversity in skin colour, culture, and ethnicity is something to be celebrated and to be proud of!

Your skin is beautiful, whatever the shade!

Find out about how other young people manage the effects of racism on mental health.

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Do I have something wrong with me?
Racism is not something wrong with you, it is something wrong with society

Racism is not something wrong with you, it is something wrong with society

It is very natural to have a lot of feelings come up for you when experiencing or witnessing racism. The recent wave of the Black Lives Matter Movement across the world has forced a lot of young people of colour to confront these issues with friends, family and within themselves.

It is important to remember to take care of yourself when working through these difficult feelings and conversations. Keep in mind:

  • You should not feel ashamed of your race, ethnicity or culture!
  • It is not your responsibility to fix racism. Don’t put pressure on yourself to try to fix it on your own! The people around you all have a duty to uphold the rights of BAME young people.
  • It is okay to say ‘No, my mental capacity is full right now.’ Many people are talking about racism, asking questions and sharing media. While it is good to have these conversations, you don’t have to have them all the time, or provide all the answers for your friends from different cultures. It can be overwhelming, and it is okay to say no!

You are not alone

As a mixed-race girl with Caribbean heritage, I’ve always felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. At school I always felt torn between my two friends, my white friend Amy and my black friend Suhayla. I felt like I wasn’t ‘black enough’ for my BAME friends, but I was embarrassed and hid my culture from my white friends who couldn’t relate to me about a lot of things. I ended up avoiding bringing up anything about race altogether with both. I felt really anxious and self-conscious in my skin no matter who I spent time with. When the Black Lives Matter protests begun, my anxiety got worse. I was really nervous to post anything about it on social media even though it brought up a lot of feelings for me. I began to isolate myself and try to avoid any situations where someone might bring it up.

Amy and Suhayla noticed that something was wrong and reached out to me. After talking about how I was feeling, I realised that it wasn’t the colour of their skin or mine that brought us together, it was our friendship. I decided to try to stop being scared to talk about race with my friends. The more we talked about it, the easier it was. I invited them both for a day out in the park. Although some of the conversations were hard and a little awkward, we actually had such a fun time! Afterwards I took the time out to take care of myself by doing my favourite sport. Doing this regularly cleared my mind and helped me with my anxiety. I still feel nervous sometimes when I hang out with them, but being able to talk about it with really helped.

- Mikayla, 14

You are not alone

How can I manage the effects of racism on my mental health?

We have put together a few useful resources to help with how you're feeling. 

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How can I manage the effects of racism on my mental health?
Step 1: Practice Self Care

Step 1: Practice Self Care

It’s important to allow time and space for your mind to rest. If you’re feeling overwhelmed after experiencing or witnessing racism, or even just tired of talking about it, practice self-care. Take the time out once a week to do something that makes you feel good.  This could be:

  • Going on a walk
  • Making your favourite food
  • Playing with a pet
  • Taking a social media detox 

Swipe left for 3 more steps, including self-care tips from Black Minds Matter UK.

Step 2: Reach Out for Support

You may feel overwhelmed by the media or uneasy after experiencing or witnessing racism. While you might naturally want to withdraw or forget about it altogether, chances are someone else might feel the same way. Reach out to friends and family, or someone you trust, to talk about what happened or talk about how it has made you feel.

TIP: If you struggle to connect, try writing your feelings down and setting reminders on your phone to encourage you.

Swipe left to find Step 3!

Step 2: Reach Out for Support
Step 3: Encourage self-confidence

Step 3: Encourage self-confidence

If you’re feeling low self-esteem and not feeling good in your skin, there are lots of things you can do to build up your confidence. This can include:

  • Follow BAME creators in your social media. These could be musicians, authors, artists or influencers to feed your mind with positive images of people who look like you. This will help you feel proud of the skin you’re in.
  • Challenge your thoughts. Write down your negative thoughts. Is there anything to prove that these are true? What would you say to a friend having these thoughts? Is there another way to look at the situation?
  • Try something new! Sometimes changing your environment can help you to see yourself in a different way. Try out a new sport, join an art club, play a game you’ve never tried before.

For more tips on building up your self-confidence and self-esteem, have a look at our Self-Esteem module.

Swipe left to find Step 4!

Step 4: Safely Challenge Racism

If you experience or witness racism and it leaves you feeling frozen because you don’t know what to do or how to react, this can really lower your confidence. The YMCA Right Here young volunteers have put together an ongoing series of resources on how to safely challenge anti-black racism.

Step 1: Educate Yourself

 Step 2: React Calmly

Step 3: Self Care Online

Step 4: How To Respond to Anti-BLM Arguments

Check out the rest of the steps and other useful posts on the YMCA Right Here Instagram page.

Step 4: Safely Challenge Racism
Get Help

Get Help

If you feel that racism is severly impacting your mental health, it may be a good idea to get some help. Click here to find mental health support services in your area.

If you fear you are unsafe, or that your physical and emotional wellbeing is in danger, get help now.

Do you want to talk to someone?

Referral link