Discrimination and minority groups

Here, we explore the mental health needs of minority groups, and looks at how some of the barriers can have an impact on the mental health of individuals from different ethnic backgrounds.

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 belonging to different cultures.

These barriers occur in day-to-day activities and interactions with people and also in their access to services. Negative attitudes towards race, sexuality and background have been shown to affect an individual’s health in a number of ways.

In 2021, 14% of the UK population was from a minority ethnic background. 

Discrimination and health

Discrimination and harassment involve actions or behaviours that offend an individual’s dignity or unfairly penalise them. Discrimination can affect a person’s health in a multitude of ways, including:

  • Chronic and acute stress. This can affect mental well-being and produce physiological changes.
  • Differences in treatment. This can lead to a lesser chance of reaching health-promoting resources.
  • Differences in opportunities. This includes living conditions, employment and education.

Census data for ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom

Ethnic group Population (2011) % of total population

Asian British or Asian: Indian



Asian British or Asian: Pakistani



Asian British or Asian: Bangladeshi



Asian British or Asian: Chinese



Asian British or Asian: Other Asian



Asian British or Asian: Total



Black British or Black



Multiple or mixed: Total



Other ethnic group: Total



Total population



Black and minority ethnic groups (BME)

Racism and harassment

Racism occurs when someone draws negative thoughts and conclusions about a person because of their biological characteristics. Racial harassment involves violent, threatening or demeaning racially motivated behaviour from one ethnic group to another.

According to the 2005 Home Office Citizenship Survey, one in five respondents said that they were worried about getting physically attacked because of their religion, ethnic origin or skin colour.

Experience of racial discrimination and harassment can lead to:

  • high blood pressure
  • lower life satisfaction and self-esteem
  • respiratory illness
  • psychological distress
  • anxiety and depression
  • anger and stress
  • suicidal thoughts

Mental health

Research suggests that people who are of a South Asian and Black African Caribbean origin are more likely to have problems that are incorrectly linked to mental health. They are also less likely to have genuine mental health concerns detected by their doctor1.

A 2008 study that explored the association between socio-economic status, mental problems and ethnicity, discovered that among adults between the ages of 16 and 64, Black African and Black Caribbean groups typically had double the chance of experiencing psychotic disorders compared with White British groups. The same results were found when observing different socio-economic statuses2.

According to the same study, Bangladeshi and Pakistani women were found to be at an increased risk of developing schizophrenia despite their socio-economic status. In Asian communities, mental health is thought to be influenced by such factors as gender and age.

  • Older Pakistani and Indian women and middle-aged Pakistani men have a much higher rate of common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety3.
  • South Asian women have a significantly higher rate of common mental health conditions in comparison to black and white women4.
  • Indian men are thought to have a higher rate of alcohol-related issues5.

Ethnicity hasn’t been found to have an effect on the likelihood of being detained under the Mental Health Act. The 2014 study did find, however, that residing London, the presence of risk, a diagnosis of psychosis, the level of social support and female gender did have an effect on the likelihood of being detained.

Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT)

In the UK, attitudes towards gay people are steadily improving. However, most bisexual, gay and lesbian people have experienced difficulties at some stage of their lives due to their sexuality. Being gay doesn’t instantly cause problems with mental health. It’s workplace harassment, homophobic bullying, poor responses from mental health professionals and rejection from family that are the main factors that cause mental health distress.

In England, a survey discovered that those who registered with the NHS who described themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual were two to three times more likely to report having emotional or psychological problems compared with those who described themselves as heterosexual6.

In 2011 a British survey was conducted by Stonewall, a charity that campaigns and lobbies for LGBT rights. Out of the 6,861 participants, it was discovered that one in 10 bisexual and gay men between the ages of 16 and 19 attempted suicide less than a year before taking the survey. Furthermore, one in 16 bisexual and gay men between the ages of 16 and 24 had attempted to take their own life in the same year. The study also discovered that one in seven bisexual and gay men were currently exhibiting moderate to severe levels of anxiety and depression7.

In 2008, a survey was conducted with 6000 female participants. The survey discovered that four in five bisexual and lesbian women reported having had spells of feeling miserable, sad or being depressed. Furthermore, one in five bisexual and lesbian women have deliberately harmed themselves8.

Rural communities

Evidence suggests that rural communities living in remote and isolated places around the UK produce a culture of stoicism towards mental health and promote self-reliance from generation to generation.

Research conducted in Scotland unveiled that there are many cultural traits that are shared between rural and urban communities, yet culture can still vary between them both and even between different rural communities.

A self-reliant culture matched with physical isolation from support services and social networks is believed to contribute towards depression, anxiety and stress in rural areas. Studies also discovered that common mental health issues are not typically recognised by those who reside in rural areas as many do not think these problems need practical support and treatment9.

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 and to legally prevent discrimination in the workplace and in wider 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 individual's 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 disabled.

How can counselling help?

Counselling can help with a number of mental health concerns including:

  • low self-esteem and low self-confidence
  • stress and anxiety
  • cultural adjustment and isolation
  • loss and bereavement
  • relationship issues
  • surviving domestic violence, abuse and trauma

Attending counselling sessions enables you to talk to a non-judgmental person who will work with you to improve on your current situation. This will be in a confidential space where a counsellor/psychotherapist will listen to what you have to say.

A counsellor will not necessarily tell you what to do. Instead, they will help you gain a better understanding of the issues that are on your mind with the idea of enabling you to look at them from a different perspective. Together with your counsellor, you can find a way to address the difficulties in your life.


  • 1 National Institute for Mental Health in England. (2003). Inside Outside.
  • 2 Kirkbride, J.B. et al. (2008). Psychoses, ethnicity and socio-economic status.
  • 3 Weich, S. et al. (2004). Common mental disorders and ethnicity in England: the EMPIRIC study.
  • 4 Bebbington, P. et al. (2009). Adult Psychiatric Morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey.
  • 5 Mental Health Foundation. (2007). The fundamental facts: The latest facts and figures on mental health.
  • 6 Elliott, M. et al. (2015). Sexual Minorities in England Have Poorer Health and Worse Health Care Experiences.
  • 7 Guasp, A. (2012). Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health Survey.
  • 8 Hunt R & Fish, J. (2008). Prescription for Change: Lesbian and bisexual women’s health check.
  • 9 Scottish Association for Mental Health. (2012). Remote and Rural Mental Health.

Page last reviewed: 18/10/21

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