This content mentions discusses discrimination or discriminatory violence (such as homophobia, racism, sexism and ableism) and mentions sexual assault, abuse or violence, trauma, depression and anxiety, which some people may find triggering.
Last week, I sat with a group of 12- and 13-year-old boys in a school in Streatham. They are part of our Becoming a Man programme which supports young people in exploring issues around identity and belonging, and how to manage emotions like shame and anger.
One of the most common issues they reported was the hostile environment created by the police for Black boys and young men.
Their experiences in Streatham were reflected in what I later read in Baroness Casey’s independent report of the Met Police’s culture and standards of behaviour. It exposed the scale of institutionalised discrimination in the Met Police and the scant progress made since the MacPherson report in 1999.
Baroness Casey uncovered a complacency that serves as a warning to all leaders of organisations. One officer told her, ‘I think you might find pockets of misogyny in the organisation, but we’ve pretty much dealt with racism’.
The report lays bare how far as a society we need to go. It vividly captures how discrimination can lead to disadvantage which can in turn damage life chances. There is much more we must do to ensure safety, dignity and equity for everyone, which is a fundamental requirement of a mentally healthy society.
Findings of racism, misogyny and homophobia
The report sets out a wealth of evidence that Black and ethnic minority communities are under-protected.
Black people were nearly six times more likely to be murdered in London. Additionally, in the three years from 2020, Black people in London were nearly twice as likely to be a recorded rape victim than White people, 66% more likely to be a reported victim of domestic abuse and over 2.5 times more likely to be a victim of hate crime.
Every year since 2016, those aged 11 to 61 who appear to be Black were at least 3.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the Met than their White counterparts. Black people in London were more likely to be handcuffed, have a baton used against them and more likely to have a Taser fired on them by a Met officer than White people.
Black children were more likely to be treated as adults and as a threat. Black children have been subject to inappropriate and intrusive interventions by Met officers, including strip searches.
The report also highlighted sexism as rife within the Met in terms of how female Met officers are treated by their colleagues, and how women in the public are treated.
A third of Met women surveyed reported personally experiencing sexism at work, with 12% reporting directly experiencing sexual harassment or assault. Everyday experiences for women include patronising comments, downplaying of their achievements, overt inappropriate sexual comments, unwanted attention, harassment, violence and being spoken over.
Trust has also fallen in the LGBTQ+ community, as recorded homophobic hate crimes in London have increased significantly. Over the past five years, this has gone up by 75% while investigations into high-profile murders revealed deep-rooted homophobia.
Mental health impacts of discrimination
It is now undeniable that being a victim of a hate crime has a detrimental effect on mental health. Research has suggested that when individuals are targeted because of who they are or how they appear, they are likely to experience a host of negative emotions, distinct from those who have experienced nonbiased criminal victimisation.1
Victims of hate crimes are more likely to suffer higher levels of depression, vulnerability, anxiety, nervousness, an extreme sense of isolation and long-lasting fear.2 As individuals realise that they have been targeted for characteristics they cannot change, it is common for those who have experienced hate crimes to fear ‘repeat victimisation’.2 This can lead to people altering the ways in which they lead their lives. People who belong to targeted communities may modify their behaviour in terms of how they dress and where they go, avoiding certain areas and services as they can be fearful of another attack.3
We know that over-policing in racialised communities can have a detrimental impact on mental health. The review itself found that people stopped by the police suffered more mental health problems than those who live in the same neighbourhoods but have not been stopped by police. People who participated in this review described being stopped and searched as humiliating and traumatic. Wider research outside of this report has found that fear of the police can elevate distress at a population level: hearing stories of police brutality that apply to one’s population group can foster worry about becoming a victim.4
Bullying, stigma and isolation because of race, gender, religion, sexuality and disability is like poison for our mental health. We know from our own work that a toxic work environment and feelings of stigma can be corrosive to our mental health.5 It is why workplace interventions on mental health are so vital and why we are calling for trauma-informed training to be a standard for all public servants.6-7
The Casey report is a reminder of why the mission to create a mentally healthy society cannot be realised unless we tackle discrimination, bullying and abuse. For the sake of the boys that I sat with in Streatham last week, let’s re-double our efforts towards that goal.
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- Craig-Henderson, K., & Sloan, L. R. (2003). After the hate: Helping psychologists help victims of racist hate crime. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(4), 481–490
- Understanding the Needs of Hate Crime Victims. (n.d.). Retrieved 22 March 2023, from www.osce.org/odihr
- Hate Crimes and Trauma - Stop Hate UK. (n.d.). Retrieved 22 March 2023.
- Alang, S., McAlpine, D., McCreedy, E., & Hardeman, R. (2017). Police Brutality and Black Health: Setting the Agenda for Public Health Scholars. American Journal of Public Health, 107(5), 662.
- Mental Health Foundation. How to support mental health at work.
- Mental Health at Work. Mental Health Workshops For Businesses | Support Your Team.
- Mental Health Foundation. Mental Health and the Cost-of-Living Crisis: Another pandemic in the making? (2023).
Blog: Racism and mental health
Co-authored by the Mental Health Foundation Staff Working Group and Community Partner and Staff Working Group, this blog discusses the impact of racism on racialised communities and outlines a series of resources and tips on racism and mental health.
A-Z topic: Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities
Rates of mental ill-health for people from a BAME background, what can affect the mental health of people from BAME communities and barriers BAME people can face when getting support and finding the right support for you.
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Mental health problems such as depression, self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, but they’re more common among people who are LGBTIQ+.
A-Z topic: Women and mental health
In England, around one in five women has a common mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or self-harm.