Racism is bad for mental health. While a number of studies have shown that people subjected to racist attacks tend to have higher instances of mental health problems than people who do not, a new study from the United Kingdom has shown how repeated racist attacks degrade mental health over time.
Following the Brexit campaign in the UK, there has been a documented rise in racist rhetoric and actions perpetuated by white Britons, as xenophobes felt emboldened after the successes of the Leave campaign. The United States has seen a similar rise in reported incidents of racism over the last several years.
The study found that people who faced repeated racist attacks, such as being yelled at, physically attacked, or who felt unsafe going out in public spaces, had higher instances of mental health issues that people who experienced fewer or no racist attacks.
It also found that the fear of public spaces, due to racial discrimination in those spaces, was the most significant contributor to these issues. This means that the effects of racist attacks are so profound that the fear of suffering such attacks is actually more harmful that suffering them.
“This finding would suggest that previous exposure to racial discrimination over the life course, or awareness of racial discrimination experienced by others, can continue to affect the mental health of ethnic minority people, even after the initial exposure to racial discrimination,” said Dr. Laia Bacares of the University of Manchester, one of the study’s authors.
None of this should come as much of a surprise, as oppressed minorities have been saying this for years. White supremacy is deeply interwoven throughout the power structure in Western society, and many believe white people have a hard time understanding the subtleties of racism.
As increasingly open racism sweeps across the US, UK, and Europe, racist attacks, language, and laws could become more common, this study offers evidence that this systematic racism will cause great psychological harm to people of color and other ethnic minorities.