How Does Racism Impact Mental Health?
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How Does Racism Impact Mental Health?

Racism is a persistent problem in a world where many are striving to make it more inclusive and progressive. Apart from its evident effects on society, racism has a significant negative impact on mental well-being. To better understand the complex relationship between racism and mental health, this article will examine how it affects both individuals and society at large.



Table Of Contents

Facts on Mental Health and Race

What Effects Does Racism Have On People?

What Effects Does Racism Have On Someone’s Mental Health?

Are Those That Are Racist Also Hurt By Their Racism?

How Does Anti-Racism Impact Mental Health Disparities?






Facts on Mental Health and Race


It is important to understand the current gaps in mental health that exist between various racial groups before exploring the consequences of racism on mental health. When it comes to mental health illnesses, racial and ethnic minorities often have a far higher prevalence of mental health disorders. Some mental health facts related to race are given below:

  • Adult Black individuals report suffering from severe psychological distress at a rate that is twenty percent higher than that of White individuals.
  • Compared to their white counterparts, black adults are more likely to feel depressed, hopeless and worthless (American Psychological Association, 2016).
  • Although the incidence of depression among Black individuals (24.6%) and Hispanic individuals (19.6%) is lower than those among White individuals (34.7%), it is important to remember that the duration of depression is longer in these two groups (Budhwani et al., 2015).
  • Among all racial and ethnic groups, those who identify as belonging to two or more races are the most likely to report having had any form of mental illness in the previous year (24.9%) (Underwood & Washington, 2016).





What Effects Does Racism Have On People?


Racism is a pervasive issue that affects people on many levels and permeates many facets of life. The development of an increased stress response is one of the subtlest impacts. Chronic stress is caused by a “fight or flight” response that is triggered by ongoing encounters with racial discrimination. Anxiety and depression are only two of the mental health conditions that this stress can exacerbate (Lee et al., 2018). Chronic stress might show itself as impaired immune system performance, heart problems (Thames et al., 2019), and sleep disruptions or other physical ailments (Ong & Williams, 2019).


Furthermore, it is important to recognize the psychological costs of racism. People who are experience racism may feel frustrated, angry and powerless, which has the potential to worsen their mental health. Long after the actual episodes have passed, the psychological wounds caused by discriminatory behaviors may still exist, which may have a long-term effect on mental wellness.




Racism and mental health

Photo by Kelly


What Effects Does Racism Have On Someone’s Mental Health?


Racism is a powerful trigger for people who are already struggling with mental health issues like despair or anxiety, making their challenges worse. Feelings of pessimism and unworthiness might be exacerbated by the sense of isolation and inferiority that frequently follows racial persecution.


A study published in 2018 made the case that racism-related anxiety is detrimental and can undermine qualities of resilience, hope, and motivation that are related to mental health. The study also highlighted the possibility that physical and verbal abuse could result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Bhui et al., 2018).


Additionally, racism can take the form of internalized racism, in which people who experience prejudice begin to believe unfavorable stereotypes about their own racial or ethnic group. Internalized racism can exacerbate mental health issues by causing identity crises, low self-esteem, and shame (Sosoo, 2017).





Are Those That Are Racist Also Hurt By Their Racism?


Although people who are subjected to discrimination are clearly the main victims of racism, it is important to recognize that the continuation of racist ideology also harms the mental health of those who ascribe to it. Studies indicate that people who have racist views may feel cognitive dissonance, which is an unpleasant psychological state brought on by having beliefs that are at odds with one another (Brogaard & Gatzia, 2020).


Stress and anxiety can be exacerbated by internal conflict resulting from awareness, whether conscious or unconscious, of the unfairness and harm inflicted by racism. Racists may also find it difficult to connect with others outside of their own social circles, which can result in a lack of understanding and support. Ironically, persons who uphold racist beliefs may experience mental health issues as a result of this isolation, which can also lead to feelings of loneliness (Brandt et al., 2022).





How Does Anti-Racism Impact Mental Health Disparities?


Anti-racism efforts are required to address the mental health disparities that are made worse by racism. Systemic racism must be dismantled in order to create a more equitable society and to reduce the mental health issues that people of color face. Efforts to combat racism are essential for reducing the gaps in mental health and promoting positive wellbeing. Anti-racism fundamentally affects mental health by dismantling structural obstacles and fostering inclusivity.


Initiatives against racism also act as an inspiration for improvement in mental health treatment. Culturally competent care is becoming more and more necessary as awareness increases. Through anti-racist training, mental health professionals are better prepared to recognize and handle the particular difficulties faced by people of different ethnic backgrounds.


Community-based anti-racism initiatives also establish secure areas for discussion and assistance. These programs promote empathy and a sense of community by promoting candid discussions regarding racial experiences and discrimination. By doing this, they help to break down the feelings of alienation and isolation that people who are subjected to racism frequently face, which has a positive impact on mental health outcomes.





We must all work together to address the complicated and multidimensional problem of racism’s effects on mental health. The effects of racism are extensive, ranging from heightened stress reactions to aggravating pre-existing mental health issues. Crucially, tackling gaps in mental health necessitates a dedication to anti-racism initiatives at the individual, community, and structural levels.


Regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity, we can build a society that values mental health by promoting inclusivity, understanding and empathy. We can only ensure that everyone has a psychologically healthy future by working together and making a commitment to eliminating systematic racism.




American Psychological Association. (2016). Invisibility in the African-American Community. Https://Www.Apa.Org.


Bhui, K., Nazroo, J., Francis, J., Halvorsrud, K., & Rhodes, J. (2018). The impact of racism on mental health.


Brandt, L., Liu, S., Heim, C., & Heinz, A. (2022). The effects of social isolation stress and discrimination on mental health. Translational Psychiatry, 12, 398.


Brogaard, B., & Gatzia, D. (2020). Cognitive Dissonance and the Logic of Racism (pp. 219–243).


Budhwani, H., Hearld, K. R., & Chavez-Yenter, D. (2015). Depression in Racial and Ethnic Minorities: The Impact of Nativity and Discrimination. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 2(1), 34–42.


Lee, D. B., Peckins, M. K., Heinze, J. E., Miller, A. L., Assari, S., & Zimmerman, M. A. (2018). Psychological Pathways from Racial Discrimination to Cortisol in African American Males and Females. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 41(2), 208–220.


Ong, A. D., & Williams, D. R. (2019). Lifetime discrimination, global sleep quality, and inflammation burden in a multiethnic sample of middle-aged adults. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 25(1), 82–90.




Thames, A. D., Irwin, M. R., Breen, E. C., & Cole, S. W. (2019). Experienced discrimination and racial differences in leukocyte gene expression. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 106, 277–283.


Underwood, L. A., & Washington, A. (2016). Mental Illness and Juvenile Offenders. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(2), 228.










Written By: Dr. Wasif MD

Edited by: Madison Vargas, BS

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, LMFT

Published : 02/26/2024


Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives. We do this through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. Inspired by this, we write content for your own education. Also, our content is researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. However, the information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Additionally, it should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

Written and reviewed by

Madison Vargas

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