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How can racism affect mental health?

  • Racism can have a huge impact on how you feel and your mental health. 
  • Experiencing discrimination or being treated differently by a person, people, or organisation because of your race, ethnicity or skin colour is unfair and can be distressing 
  • Racism isn’t just about being called names and it isn’t always obvious. Racism can have an impact on someone’s life opportunities, as well as the treatment they receive from people in positions of authority like employers, teachers, doctors, and police officers. All of this can be overwhelming, but there’s help out there.


Racism can have a huge impact on your mental health. Experiencing racism regularly in your everyday life or even one sudden moment can really take its toll on how you feel. If you’re struggling with your mental wellbeing and need to talk to someone you can call the CALM helpline, where trained staff are on hand to give you practical advice on moving forward. 

If you learnt about racism at school, it’s likely it centred around name calling and obvious acts of aggression based on a person’s race, ethnicity or skin colour, but that’s only one aspect. If you’ve experienced racism, you’ll know it’s not as simple as that. You might find that many people don’t even realise that what they’re doing or saying is racist, which can be even more frustrating. There is hope, the world is changing, people are educating themselves but that doesn’t make experiencing racism any easier. 

Movements like Black Lives Matter have brought racism into the spotlight in recent years, if you want to find out more about racism, or being actively anti-racist, you can find out more here.

How does racism feel?

Distress from racism isn’t a one size fits all experience. Depending who you are, and what you’ve experienced, your reaction and feelings will be different. What’s important to remember is that whatever you’ve faced or are facing, from a microaggression to a hate crime, your feelings are valid and there is support out there. 

If you experience racism you may feel or do some of the following

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Shame
  • Helplessness
  • Loneliness/Isolation
  • Worthlessness 
  • Overwhelmed 
  • Like giving up 
  • Lack of motivation
  • Avoid certain situations in everyday life to avoid going through the same experiences 
  • Panic attacks 
  • Fear 
  • Worry for your friends or family

There is hope,

the world is changing, people are educating themselves but that doesn't make experiencing racism any easier.

Why does racism affect mental health?

Lots of things can impact our mental health, including where we’re from, our background and our current life circumstances – as well as all of the stuff we do and go through in everyday life. So it makes sense that if you experience racism it can have an affect on your mental wellbeing

Studies show that experiencing racism can be extremely stressful and even damaging to someone’s mental health. As more and more research around racism and mental health is carried out, we’ll learn more about how it can affect how we feel. Some studies have already shown that people who experience racism might be more likely to develop certain mental health conditions like depression. Find out more about that here. 

If you’re struggling with your mental health, you can contact CALM here.

Where can I find help?

  • Talk to CALM from 5pm to midnight everyday. Our professional helpline workers are there to talk and to help you find ways to move forward. Calls and webchats are free, anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential. 
  • Outside of these hours, calls the Samaritans on 116 123
  • Young Minds has more information on looking after yourself after experiencing racism here 
  • To report a hate crime and receiving support or

Struggling with your mental health because of racism? Here’s some steps you can take:

1. Talk to someone 

Opening up about what you’re experiencing is a good way to lighten the load or lessen the burden you’re feeling. You shouldn’t feel ashamed of how you’re feeling – it’s out of your control and a reflection of something much bigger than yourself. Sharing how you feel with someone who understands you or has similar experiences can help to make you feel less alone. 

2. Speak to your GP or medical professional if your mental health concerns are taking over your life. 

If you’re struggling to get on with your life as a result of your mental wellbeing you should talk to someone about how you’re feeling. You can find out more about mental health issues and conditions here. 

3. Find support groups and communities to share your experience

It can be tough to talk to someone about racism if they have no understanding of what it feels like to go through it. Joining a support group in real life or online can provide a place to let off steam, discuss your feelings in a safe space, and feel validated and listened to. 

4. Report it

While you may feel that racism is all around us, it is illegal or against the rules in many places and scenarios. Learning about your rights can help you feel more empowered when faced with injustice. You can also join groups who campaign for change, which is another way to take back control and feel better about what you’ve been through. Find out more about your rights here. 

6. It’s not your job to fix racism 

If things feel overwhelming, remember it’s not up to you alone to fix racism. Racism is a huge problem that spans generations, classes, countries and even continents. You are not responsible for educating or fixing every racist thing you perceive, and trying to would be a huge burden. It’s our collective responsibility as a society to build an anti-racist society, but right now, it’s important that you look after yourself.

Talking about racism

It can be difficult to talk about racism with your friends, family or a medical professional. Here’s some ways you can start a conversation around how you’re feeling: 

“I need to talk to you about how I’m feeling. I experienced racist abuse and I can’t stop thinking about it ” 

“I need to talk – I’ve been struggling with my mental health because there is so much bad news about racism at the moment and I’ve been feeling very anxious.”

“You might have noticed i’ve not been around so much lately. I’ve been finding things difficult, and think I need some help.”

Header Illustration by Saskia Pomeroy


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