Mental Health Blog

Racism and Mental Health

By now, most of us are aware of the death of George Floyd, and many other victims of police brutality. There has been a lot of media coverage on the protests, and many important discussions have been ongoing on social media regarding white privilege and the Black Lives Matter movement. Although this is a challenging time for most of us, people are finally beginning to recognize a need for change that has been much needed for decades. We are starting to understand that the inherent systemic racism that many of our institutions have been built on continue to work against people of colour, especially black people. The discrimination against people of colour has a profound impact on mental health. 

Racism goes far beyond the usage of racial slurs. Our justice system, healthcare and education all play a role in perpetuating racial inequities. Similarly, police brutality and the lack of access to mental health care and proper housing all have severe impacts on mental and physical health. Therefore, racism is often identified as a social determinant of health as it has been linked to stress, anxiety as well as many physical health problems such as diabetes and coronary heart disease¹. One way of explaining this link is through neighbourhood segregation. Neighbourhood segregation is a clear issue in the states, but we can’t avoid that it is also true for neighbourhoods across Canada, and even in Calgary. When people of colour live in poorer and racially marginalized neighbourhoods, they have reduced access to good housing, high quality goods, education and healthcare¹. Lower quality education and prejudice against people of colour impact employment and income¹. Of course when when people are struggling financially due racial profiling and prejudice, it can lead to mental health problems due to stress and anxiety. Furthermore, these neighbourhoods are not equipped with the right resources to ensure that health inequities are reduced, such as mental health resources. 

So what can we do? How can we make changes to help people of colour cope with mental health that stems from racism at an institutional level? 

By looking at racism from this perspective, it may seem very cyclic in nature. Intergenerational mobility is held back, and poor mental health becomes a recurring issue for people of colour. When racism is embedded in our very own institutions and cities, it may seem difficult to envision proper change and improvements to mental health issues people of colour face. However, the discussions we are having through social media, the protests, petitions, and donations are all stepping stones that will help us reach the change we need to see. Although these steps may appear small, more voices are being heard, and people are seeing the importance of holding others accountable for their actions. More improvements still have to be made in terms of accessing mental health resources for racially marginalized communities but that starts by acknowledging the problems that they face. 

Davidson AR. Social determinants of health: a comparative approach. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press; 2019. 

Note: The Free Your Mind Mental Health Society is an independent youth-led organization. The contents of this blog are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. In the event of a medical emergency, please call your doctor or 911 or other local emergency numbers immediately.