Studies show that experiences of racism are associated with people’s experiences of anxiety, post-traumatic stress, suicidal ideation and general mental health.1
As our understanding of mental health develops, we need to acknowledge the impacts of interpersonal, institutional and systemic racism on mental health. This includes the ongoing and intergenerational impacts of colonisation and dispossession experienced by First Nations peoples.2 The health of family, community and country was identified as a key factor in determining mental health in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2020 report, Wiyi Yani U Thangani.3
First Nations psychologists and health experts note that holistic approaches to mental health should consider social and emotional wellbeing, a framework that views mental health as inseparable from physical health, as well as connections to family, community, Country, culture and spirituality.4 Ongoing human rights violations, systemic racism and the inequitable distribution of resources throughout society all continue to undermine social and emotional wellbeing. Health policies must consider these structural determinants of mental health and employ culturally informed and responsive practice.5
The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) Experiences of Racism Survey identified that prevention is likely to be a more effective and efficient public health intervention, rather than responding to individual incidents.6 Embedding anti-racism into our schools, organisations, institutions and government is vital in addressing mental health. Tackling racism will have positive psychological effects for our communities.
By reflecting on the impact of racism, and taking a stand against it, we can build a fair and equal society – for all.
It stops with me.
1 Yin Paradies et al, ’Racism as a Determinant of Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’, (2015) 10(9) PLOS One 1; Margaret Kelaher, Angeline Ferdinand and Yin Paradies, ‘Experiencing racism in health care: the mental health impacts for Victorian Aboriginal communities’ (2014) 201(1) Medical Journal of Australia 44.
2 Chelsea Watego, David Singh and Alissa Macoun, ‘Partnership for Justice in Health: Scoping Paper on Race, Racism and the Australian Health System’ (Discussion Paper, The Lowitja Institute May 2021) 3 <https://www.lowitja.org.au/content/Image/Lowitja_PJH_170521_D10.pdf>.
3 Australian Human Rights Commission, Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices): Securing Our Rights, Securing Our Future Report (Report, 2020) <https://humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/document/publication/ahrc_wiyi_yani_u_thangani_report_2020.pdf>.
4 Transforming Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing, ‘Fact Sheet: Social and Emotional Wellbeing’, <https://timhwb.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/SEWB-fact-sheet.pdf>; Vanessa Edwige et al, ‘Australia Needs to Decolonise its Mental Health and Empower More Indigenous Psychologists’, The Guardian (online, 2 June 2022) <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jun/02/australia-needs-to-decolonise-its-mental-health-system-and-empower-more-indigenous-psychologists?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other>.
5 Transforming Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing, ‘Fact Sheet: Social and Emotional Wellbeing’, <https://timhwb.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/SEWB-fact-sheet.pdf>.
6 Angeline Ferdinand, Yin Paradies and Margaret Kelaher, Mental Health Impacts of Racial Discrimination in Victorian Aboriginal Communities: The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) Experiences of Racism Survey (Report, 2013) <https://www.lowitja.org.au/content/Document/Lowitja-Publishing/LEAD-Report-WEB.pdf>.