A study published in the Journal of Counselling Psychology has shown that denying or ignoring racism leads to greater stress levels in an individual.
The study carried out by Alvin Avarez, professor of counselling at San Francisco State University focused on everyday racism surveying 199 Filipino men and women.
Professor Alvarez said that subtle racism in everyday situations such as being ignored, ridiculed or treated differently led to increased stress levels depending on how the individual coped with the situation.
The study found that those who ignored racism and discrimination or played it down tended to make the situation much worse intensifying the actual problem; and over time the situation eventually wears them down leading to low self esteem.
Surprisingly, the study found that men who confided in friends, family or loved ones still had raised stress levels and researchers put this down to the possibility that talking about racism as if things would never change could explain that conclusion.
For women the results were the same except that there was no correlation between women confiding in others and raised stress levels.
Men who challenged racism directly such as reporting the incident to authorities or challenging perpetrators were found to have lower stress levels.
Racism linked to mental health in the black community
Although this was an American study there is a link between this report and another report in Britain devised by psychiatrist, Professor Robin Murray, which found that racism and schizophrenia in the black community was linked.
According to a BBC report in December 2001, a controversial scientific report linked shizophrenia in the black community to racism. The research indicated that social factors had an influence on mental illness in the black and minority ethnic (BME) communities.
It was found that schizophrenia was highest amongst non whites where they are the minority in the overall population and low where they are the majority in the overall population.
What is interesting about this study is that it was found that schizophrenia amongst Afro-Caribbeans was lower in their own countries suggesting a clear link between mental illness within BME communities in Britain and racism.
According to the BBC report research suggest that black people are more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act and they are overrepresented in general in the mental health system.
BME health experts said, “ Previous research studies have shown that Black people are more likely to be perceived as dangerous, more likely to be brought into hospital by the police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, even when they agree to voluntary treatment, more likely to be detained under Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Act, more likely to be prescribed higher doses as well as older forms of medication, and major tranquillisers, more likely to be kept in secure, locked wards, less likely to receive anti-depressants and non-drug therapies…” (Draft Mental Health Bill: A Collaborative BME response: September 2003)
Psychiatrist, Professor Robin Murray said, “It seems to be something in the social environment, something about being black in Britain. The experience of black people in the UK almost drives them mad.”
With racism coming at BME communities from all angles the best coping strategy has been found in Professor Alvarez’s study, challenging the perpetrators and reporting the incident, but the study also encourages more proactive action from BME communities against racism because it reduces mental health problems and also reduces stress levels.
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