Discrimination is the act of treating someone unfairly or differently because of who they are, due to certain beliefs or because they possess certain characteristics.

There are many forms of discrimination and sadly, despite the Equality Act 2010 and the fact that everyone falls under the protected characteristics, it is still a problem in society.

On this page we will explain more about what constitutes as discrimination, the Equality Act 2010 and your rights. We will explore the effects of discrimination on your mental health, and what support is available.

Discrimination towards minority groups has existed in society for many, many years. While we have seen a decline in negative attitudes, the issues still exist. With the change in leadership in the USA in 2016 and Brexit in the UK, to name a few, we seem to be seeing problems occur more often. Whether the issues are more occurrent or we’re talking about it more, something needs to change.

Types of discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 highlights nine protected characteristics. It is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of the following:

  • age
  • sex
  • gender reassignment
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • religion
  • being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • being married or in a civil partnership

Under the Equality Act 2010, you are protected from discrimination in the following instances:

  • at work
  • in education
  • as a consumer
  • when using public services
  • when buying or renting a property
  • as a member or guest of a private club/association

You are also protected from discrimination if you’re associated with someone who falls under any of the nine protected characteristics if you’ve complained about discrimination or have supported another person’s claim. 

The forms of discrimination 

You can be discriminated against in a number of forms.

Direct discrimination is when someone treats another person with a protected characteristic less favourably than others. For example, if you have the right qualifications for a job role, but you are turned down because you are ‘too young’ or ‘too old’. 

Indirect discrimination is when a rule, policy or arrangements in place that, while applying to everyone, put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage. Indirect discrimination is more difficult to identify than direct discrimination, as to the majority it looks normal.

Harassment is any unwanted behaviour that makes another person feel intimidated, offended or humiliated. This may be in the form of jokes, abuse, physical gestures, verbal or non verbal words or offensive emails and expressions. If it violates a person’s dignity or creates an uncomfortable, offensive environment for them, it is harassment.

If you’re being harassed online, it is cyberbullying. Learn more about bullying and online safety

Victimisation is when someone is treated poorly as a result of them complaining or reporting a discrimination offence or harassment. This also includes a person being victimised because they supported another victim of discrimination. 

Discrimination can also come in the form of association and perception. By association is when a person is treated unfairly because they know, or are associated with someone with a protected characteristic. For example, being refused entry to a bar or restaurant because their friend is of a particular race or religion. 

By perception is any unfair treatment put on a person because someone thinks they belong to a particular group with protected characteristics. For example, when someone of a particular race is denied a product or opportunity as a result of misconception on their behaviour, appearance etc. 

What is the Equality Act 2010?

The Equality Act 2010 applies in England, Scotland and Wales. It legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace, and wider society. Previously there were a number of anti-discrimination laws, including the Disability Discrimination Act. These laws were replaced this with one Act, making the law easier to understand and actually strengthening protection in some situations. 

Learn more about the Equality Act 2010

Hate crime

Hate crime: A crime motivated by racial, sexual or other prejudice, typically involving violence.

In 2015/16 there was more than 62,000 recorded offences of hate crime in the UK. 49,000 (79%) were recorded to be race hate crimes. Following the EU Referendum in July 2016, there was a dramatic increase (41%) in the number of racially or religiously aggravated offences recorded by police, compared to July 2015. 

Racist and religious hate crime 

If the victim or anyone else thinks an incident was carried out due to hostility or prejudice against race or religion, it is regarded as a hate incident. This kind of discrimination can affect anyone. 

What does racial or religious group mean? 

A racial group means a group of people who are defined by reference to their race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origin. This includes gypsies and travellers, refugees, asylum seekers, Jews and Sikhs. A religious group is a group of people who share the same religious beliefs, such as Christians, Muslims and Hindus. It also includes those with no religious belief at all (such as atheists). 

What type of incidents are considered a racist or religious hate incident? 

Hate incidents can take many forms, such as verbal and physical abuse, online abuse, threatening behaviour, bullying and property damage. They can be a one-off incident, or ongoing harassment or intimidation. They may be carried out by strangers, or by someone you know, like a carer, teacher, neighbour or friend. 

When does it become a hate crime? 

Racist or religious incidents are hate crimes when they become a criminal offence. Any criminal offence can be a hate crime, if the incident occurred due to the offender being prejudged or hostile towards you and your race or religion. According to Citizens Advice, there are two types of racist and religious hate crime: 

  • racially or religiously aggravated offences under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998
  • any other offences for which the sentence can be increased under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 if they are classed as a hate crime 

In both cases, the judge has the ability to impose a tougher sentence if the criminal offence is classed as a racist or religious hate crime. 

Disability hate crime 

If someone has been hostile or violent towards you because of your disability, it is considered a hate incident. Like racial and religious hate incidents, disability hate incidents can happen anywhere. You may know the offender, or they may be a stranger. 

You can also be a victim of a disability hate incident, even if you don’t have a disability. If someone believes you have a disability, or you are associated with someone with a disability, for example, your child or a friend, you can be a victim of disability hate incidents.

LGBTQ+ hate crime

If someone has been violent or hostile towards you because of your sexual orientation, this is a homophobic hate incident. Hostile or violent incidents because of your transgender identity is a transphobic hate incident

Anyone can be the victim of a homophobic or transphobic hate incident. As with other discrimination incidents, you can also be targeted by perception or by association. 

The effects of discrimination 

Discrimination and prejudice is not OK. No one should be discriminated against and yet, for many people, discrimination and prejudice is an everyday reality. 

We are all equal, but when another person mistreats, judges or discriminates against you because of who you are or what you believe in, it can have a profound effect on your livelihood. You may feel sad, hurt and angry. You may doubt yourself. 

If someone discriminates against you for whatever reason, it’s important you report it. If you believe they have mistreated you because of who you are, then it is discrimination. 

What are the effects of discrimination on mental health?

Discrimination can affect a person’s mental health in a number of ways. According to the American Psychological Association, people who have experienced discrimination report also having higher stress levels. 

Stress can affect health massively and if untreated, can lead to a number of physical and mental health problems. Whether it is caused by a direct experience of discrimination, or because you are within a community or hold a characteristic which is commonly discriminated against, the pressure can be overwhelming.

When stress isn’t managed or you are unable to cope, your body will start to show the signs. Your immune system can weaken and your blood pressure can rise. You may feel tired, irritable and emotional. When this pressure builds, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Of course, everybody deals with stress differently and some of us can handle more pressure than others. However, it’s important you ask for help when you need it.

Anyone can be a victim of discrimination and it can happen anywhere. Regardless of who you are and where it happens, being discriminated against can be incredibly upsetting. A comment by a stranger can leave you feeling worthless. A traumatic, violent attack can leave you fearing the outside world. Without the right support, further problems can develop including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Discrimination is a very complex issue. Because it is experienced in so many ways, by so many different people, it is difficult to understand exactly how it affects our mental health.

Dealing with discrimination

In an ideal world, there would be no discrimination and so, no need for the following advice on how to cope. Sadly, discrimination still exists in society and so, finding healthy ways to deal with it is important, for both your physical and mental health.

Have a support network

Discrimination can be incredibly isolating. As a victim, you may internalise the negativity you received and this can affect your self-esteem, self-belief and self-worth. Having a support network to rely on can help you move past these experiences, and your friends and family can remind you of your worth and support you in the time after the event.

Get involved

Support can come from other places, as well as your loved ones. There are groups and organisations that can help like-minded people come together and talk about their experiences. It can be reassuring to know you’re not alone in this, and connecting with these people can help you learn how to address and respond to experiences in ways you perhaps hadn’t considered.

Focus on your reactions

Being a victim of discrimination can trigger a lot of strong emotions, often all at once. Feelings of hurt, anger, shame and sadness can appear suddenly and influence your response. These experiences can also trigger a physical response too, such as increased blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

Slow your breathing and practise other relaxation techniques to cope with the stress response. Taking things slow will help you keep a clear head and consider more carefully how you will respond.

Move on

Being discriminated against is heartbreaking. It’s not an easy thing to shake off. It’s easy to get stuck in the event, unsure of how to handle it. You might want to speak up and report the incident, but be too afraid of the backlash, or unsure of who to turn to and so you keep it to yourself.

But keeping quiet can make things worse. In fact, researchers found that while traumatic experiences are a cause of anxiety and depression, people who dwell on negative experiences report more stress and anxiety than those who move on.

Talk about what you’ve gone through and how you feel. If it helps, write everything down, including how you would ideally like to respond if it were to happen again. Once you’ve done this, put it aside and carry on with your day.

Seek professional help

Not everyone can move on so easily. Discrimination can be very difficult to deal with and needing extra support is nothing to be ashamed of. We all have our own ways to cope and a lot of the time, speaking to our loved ones is enough. Other times, however, professional help is needed. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, please, reach out.

Finding support

Discrimination is a shocking, upsetting and disgusting experience that no person should have to go through. Often associated with mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression, further support and treatment are often recommended.

Counselling is one form of treatment. Talking to a trained professional can help in many ways. It can help you understand what may trigger your anxiety, help you overcome the experience and teach you ways to cope. There are many types of talking therapies available, though cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is commonly prescribed for anxiety and depression.

CBT combines two different approaches for practical and solution-focused therapy. The idea behind the therapy is that our thoughts and behaviours are affected by each other. That by changing the way we think or behave in a situation, we can change the way we feel. The therapy examines the learnt behaviours, habits and negative thought patterns and works with the client to change them into a positive.

Mindfulness is another form of therapy thought to be effective in treating stress and anxiety. Mindfulness is an approach which comes from a Buddhist meditation technique and focuses on the present moment, rather than worrying about the past or future.

It’s important to bear in mind that what works for one person, may not be right for you. If you’re ready to seek professional help and are interested in a particular therapy, do take your time and do your research. It might sound good on paper, but you may find that it’s not right for you.

When you’ve found a counsellor you resonate with, talk to them about your concerns and ask any questions you have. Together you will be able to decide on the most suitable treatment plan. Of course, sometimes it takes a little while for you to realise something’s not working. Don’t be afraid to speak up if something’s not right. At the end of the day, you are there to get better and the counsellor will help you in any way they can to get the right support.

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