Discrimination and minority groups
Discrimination towards minority groups has existed in society for decades, and though in recent years these negative attitudes have declined, many barriers and disadvantages still exist for those who belong to different cultures.
This fact-sheet explores the mental health needs of certain minority groups, and also looks at how stigma, outdated attitudes, intolerance and ignorance towards various cultures can have a profound impact on the mental health of individuals from different ethnic backgrounds.
On this page
- How many people living in Britain are from ethnic minorities?
- African-Caribbean communities
- Chinese communities
- Irish communities
- South Asian communities
How many people living in Britain are from ethnic minorities?
According to the 2001 census, of the 4.9 million individuals belonging to ethnic minorities in the UK, Asians of Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani origins accounted for approximately half of the non-White population. Black Caribbean, Black African or other Black accounted for 25 per cent, the mixed ethnic group accounted for 15 per cent and Chinese and then additional minority groups both accounted for 5 per cent each of the total ethnic minority population1.
Individuals from African-Caribbean backgrounds have long since experienced racism and discrimination, with various studies such as The Parekh Report and the Diversity and Disadvantage study (as cited by Mind), suggesting that up to 20,000 African-Caribbean individuals are victims of some form of physical assault every year2, 3, 4.
It is also well documented that African-Caribbean people are treated very differently in the various stages of the criminal justice system, with Black African suspects standing a significantly higher risk than white suspects of being arrested and tried. Furthermore, they are also six times more likely than White people to receive longer sentences and to be in prison5.
Mental health services
Studies also suggest that Black people are treated differently within the mental health system. Research from the 1980s shows that Black people were more likely to be detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, which allows police to arrest a person and take them to a 'place of safety' if they feel that they may be suffering from a mental health disorder in a public place5. In addition, Black people were also found to stand triple the risk of being sectioned when compared to the White population.
Black women in particular are treated very differently to their White counterparts when using mental health services, and are 20 per cent more likely to receive a psychosis diagnosis compared to white women (who are likely to be diagnosed with a personality disorder when exhibiting the same symptoms). Furthermore, Black women are less likely than White women to display symptoms of postnatal depression and GPs are less likely to recognise any symptoms or signs of a mental health concern6.
Chinese communities first began appearing in the UK in the early 1900s when seaman who had sailed in on British ships from Chinese ports such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, began settling in port cities such as Liverpool.
Over a century down the line, five per cent of the ethnic minority population is now made up of people from Chinese families and communities, some of whom have been in Britain for generations7. Many of these communities still continue to live life around their original culture, with their own activities and support networks. However, though Chinese communities remain largely tight-knit, they have also integrated somewhat into the British community, and compared to the majority of other ethnic minorities within the UK they have one of the highest rates of inter-ethnic marriages and also have a record of extremely high academic achievement.
Despite their integration into British society and their long established presence in the UK, a huge number of Chinese individuals still find themselves facing stigma, language barriers and a lack of support and services on a daily basis, and despite the size of the Chinese population in the UK, little effort has been made to research their mental health needs8.
Traditionally many Chinese people in Britain have worked in either catering or hospitality. However, recent years have seen a reduction in the number of Chinese working in jobs such as these and also in manual labour, perhaps indicating that younger generations are looking outside of the limited employment options and instead are trying to achieve as much as possible during compulsory education so that there are more opportunities for them in their working life.
For those that remain working in the catering industry, poor wages and working conditions coupled with unsociable hours may leave employees feeling isolated with long working hours meaning they have little opportunity to seek help if needed.
The lack of research into mental health issues among the Chinese community does mean that very little is known about the prevalence of mental illness within their culture when compared to that of the general population. However, it has been found that Chinese people are far less likely to use mental health services, which has been put down to a combination of factors including inadequate knowledge of services, language barriers and a lack of cultural awareness among mental health professionals8.
In 2004 a survey commissioned by the Department of Health found that Chinese people have extremely low rates of hospital attendance, take less prescribed medicine than the general population, and were around 40 per cent less likely to report a long term illness than the general population9.
There are various other factors which may prevent Chinese people from getting in contact with mental health services, one major factor being that of language barriers. According to figures, between 70 and 80 per cent of first generation Chinese immigrants do not speak English, making it extremely difficult for them to gain access to any mental health services. Appointments involving an interpreter would place extra constraints on a doctors time and this combined with little experience of working with ethnic minority patients can lead to inaccurate diagnoses being given as well as poor explanations of treatments and how they work10.
Although the Irish are among the oldest minority ethnic groups in Britain today, the fact they are a predominately white community means that they are often not considered when it comes to matters of discrimination. For many years the Irish endured persecution from both English politicians and the public meaning they consistently had to face barriers of inequality in education, employment, health and housing.
For a period of around three decades, experts have found the prevalence of poor physical and mental health to be significantly higher than that of the general population. According to a report conducted by the Office for National Statistics in 2002, the Irish were found to have the highest prevalence of common mental disorders of any ethnic minority group, and the rate of anxiety disorders among men was found to be highest in the Irish group11.
Mounting evidence is continuing to suggest that ill mental health is strongly linked to discrimination and inequality in social and economic areas such as employment and education, with additional research adding weight to the notion that a good network of social support can work at minimising the risk of poor mental health. However, it is a distinct lack of services available to the Irish that puts and keeps them at a significant risk of developing a mental health concern.
South Asian communities
According to the 2001 census, over 50 per cent of the UK ethnic minority population is of South Asian origin, 'South Asian' referring to those born in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh plus their descendants.
Indians made up the largest of the groups, accounting for 22.7 per cent of the overall minority ethnic population. The next largest group were Pakistanis, who accounted for 16.1 per cent, followed by Bangladeshis who made up 6.1 per cent 12.
A Home Office report based on findings from the 2000 British Crime Survey revealed that individuals belonging to South Asian communities stood the highest risk of becoming a victim of a racially motivated crime. The figures showed that Pakistani and Bangladeshis stood a 4.2 per cent risk, Indians stood a 3.6 per cent risk and black groups stood a 2.2 per cent risk compared to a 0.3 per cent risk for white groups13.
Furthermore, an increased focus on terrorism in both the media and in general means that Muslims even face discrimination in their homes, with a 2006 rethink report highlighting findings which suggest that 29 per cent would not want to live next door to a person with mental health problems, and 47 per cent would not be happy living next door to a Muslim with mental health problems.
The same study also revealed that 89 per cent of the individuals surveyed felt that people are more wary and suspicious of Muslim people today than they were a decade ago, and 89 per cent of participants admitted to believing our attitudes towards others and our treatment of them does impact mental health14.
An additional study cited in the same report revealed that in a survey which asked the Pakistani community about their views on mental health, almost two thirds of the participants felt that current public perception and media portrayal of their culture was affecting their mental health. Some respondents said that negative portrayal can reduce self-esteem and can result in the development of stress and mental health concerns.
Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals
For some time now mental health problems have been found to be more common among lesbian, gay and bisexual people than in the general population, and though being gay, lesbian or bisexual are not direct causes of mental distress, the impact of the stigma attached to sexuality can be a contributing factor.
It was only in 1993 that homosexuality was removed as a 'psychiatric diagnosis' and though since then public awareness and acceptance of homosexuality has grown considerably, homophobia and heterosexism still exist, as do attitudes that lesbian or gay sexuality is mentally abnormal. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people will unfortunately have to face this kind of stigma in many situations, from being bullied at school right through to discrimination in the workplace and when using public health services15.
In a 2003 study looking into the mental health and social wellbeing of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals in England and Wales, figures clearly showed that lesbians, gay men and bisexuals were made victims of harassment and discrimination far more often than heterosexuals. According to the findings, 68 per cent of gay men and 56 per cent of bisexual men had been verbally harassed in the past five years compared to 46 per cent of heterosexual men. The findings were fairly similar for women, of whom 50 per cent of lesbians and 54 per cent of bisexuals were harassed in the past five years compared to 43 per cent of heterosexuals.
The same study also found that gay, lesbian and bisexual children were more likely to have experienced bullying at school than their heterosexual peers and were also more likely to have both considered self-harm and to have actually self-harmed16.
Compared to those living in urban city areas, individuals who live in rural communities with lots of open spaces and a lower population density generally benefit from better health and well-being than city dwellers.
Peace and quiet, lower crime rates and a natural environment are just a few of the recognised benefits of living in the countryside, but with these positives also comes the negatives of poor public transport, a lack of services and sometimes serious economic changes in the community. Because GP surgeries may also be spread more widely, it may be a struggle for certain people to get to their doctor or to find information about mental health services. In addition to this, rural communities may not be allocated enough money to fund sufficient local mental health services.
In rural communities there are certain individuals who are more vulnerable to poor mental health than others. Farmers for instance, stand a higher risk of depression, stress and suicide than the general population, possibly due to the fact that farming involves a considerable amount of isolated working and can be affected by agricultural crisis, over which a farmer has no control17. Furthermore farmers who do develop a mental health concern may choose to mask their problem for fear of the stigma attached, may be unable to take the time off needed to use mental health services, or they simply may live in an area where geographically services are difficult to reach.
Other groups who may be vulnerable to mental health issues are Black and minority ethnic groups and lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. All of these individuals are already minorities in many parts of the UK, and are likely to account for even smaller minorities in rural communities. Sadly, this means that they often slip under the radar and are not considered by those who plan services for local communities.
Travellers also experience significant barriers in accessing services, partly due to the fact that many don't have a fixed address and therefore have difficulty registering with health services. In addition, the portrayal of travellers in the mass media mean that many local residents have negative perceptions of the travelling community, which can take a toll on their self-esteem, mental health and well-being.
Migrant workers may also experience hostility and negative attitudes from settled communities which may discourage them from using local mental health services. In addition, illegal migrant workers in particular may speak very little English, making it very difficult for them to understand British mental health services. Seasonal employment which is common among migrant workers may also mean that individuals do not remain resident in one place for long enough to receive the care they need.
Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act was first implemented in 2010 and replaces a large proportion of the Disability Discrimination Act. Essentially The Act exists to protect disabled people from unfair treatment, to prevent disability discrimination and to promote a fair and more equal society.
Though many individuals associate the term 'disability' with a physical impairment, the Equality Act 2010 also covers mental health problems. Instead of providing a list of conditions covered by The Act, it instead takes each individuals personal circumstances and the effects of their impairment into account. For example, those suffering from mild depression with minor side effects may not be covered, whereas individuals who are seriously affected by a mental health condition which inhibits their ability to perform everyday tasks are likely to be considered disabled18.
- Foolchand, N. (2006) African-Caribbean community, Mind. Available: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/people_groups_and_communities/mental_health_of_the_african_caribbean_community_in_britain
- Galloway, C (1998) Mental health of Chinese and Vietnamese people in Britain, Mind, (revised by Lee, L. 2010). Available: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/people_groups_and_communities/mental_health_of_chinese_and_vietnamese_people_in_britain
- Tilki, M. (2008) The mental health of Irish people in Britain, Mind. Available: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/people_groups_and_communities/mental_health_of_irish_people_in_britain
- Kalathil, J. (2008) The mental health of the South Asian community in Britain, Mind. Available: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/people_groups_and_communities/mental_health_of_the_south_asian_community_in_britain
- Twomey, R. (2006) Rural issues in mental health, Mind,(revised by Dodd, T. 2010). Available: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/people_groups_and_communities/rural_issues_in_mental_health
1Office for National Statistics (2004) Ethnicity and Identity, Population Size. Available:http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=455
2The Parekh Report (2002) The Future of Multi-ethnic Britain.
3Modood, T., Berthoud, R., Lakey, L., Nazroo, J., Smith, P., Virdee, S. and Beishon, S. (1997) Ethnic Minorities in Britain – Diversity and Disadvantage.
4Foolchand, N. (2006) African-Caribbean community, Mind. Available: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/people_groups_and_communities/mental_health_of_the_african_caribbean_community_in_britain
5Mooney, J. and Young, J. (1999)Social Exclusion and Criminal Justice: Ethnic communities and stop and search in North London. Available: www.malcolmread.co.uk/JockYoung/policing_ethnic_minorities.pdf
6Edge, D. (2006) Perinatal depression: Its absence among Black Caribbean Women, British Journal of Midwifery.
7Office for National Statistics (2004) Ethnicity and Identity, Population Size. Available: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=455
8Cowan, C. (2001) The mental health of Chinese people in Britain: An update of current literature, Journal of Mental Health.
9Sproston, K. and Mindell, J. (2006) The health of minority ethnic groups, The Information Centre. Available: www.ic.nhs.uk/.../healthsurvey2004ethnicfull/HealthSurveyforEnglandVol1_210406_PDF.pdf
10Yee, L. and Shun, A. (1997) Chinese mental health issues in Britain – perspectives from the Chinese Mental Health Association, Mental Health Foundation.
11Sproston, K. and Nazroo, J. (2002) Ethnic minority psychiatric illness in the community (EMPIRIC) - quantitative report. The Stationery Office. Available: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsStatistics/DH_4005698
12Office for National Statistics (2002) Bangladeshis have largest households. Available: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=270
13Clancy, A., Hough, M., Aust, R. andKershaw, C. (2001) Crime, Policing and Justice: The Experience of Ethnic Minorities. Findings from the 2000 British Crime Survey, Home Office Research. Available: www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs/hors223.pdf).
14Rethink (2007) Muslim neighbours face extra discrimination. Available: http://www.rethink.org/how_we_can_help/news_and_media/press_releases/muslim_neighbours_fa.html
15Hunt, R. and Jensen, J. (2007) The school report: the experiences of young gay people in British schools, Stonewall. Available: www.stonewall.org.uk/documents/school_report.pdf
16King, M. and McKeown, E. (2003) Mental health and social wellbeing of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals in England and Wales, A summary of findings. Available: www.pcsproud.org.uk/SummaryfindingsofLGBreport.pdf
17Malmberg, A., Simkin, S. and Hawton, K. (1999) Suicide in farmers, British Journal of Psychiatry
18Equality Act 2010. Available: http://www.equalities.gov.uk/equality_act_2010.aspx