What are the effects of racism on health and mental health?

2022-11-22 19:02:51
What are the effects of racism on health and mental health?

Racism, or discrimination based on race or ethnicity, is a key contributing factor in the onset of disease. It is also responsible for increasing disparities in physical and mental health among Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the US.

This article looks at some of the ways that racism can affect health, how a person can live healthfully while facing the burden of racism, and how socioeconomic factors associated with racism can continue to pose risks to both physical and mental health.

A 2015 systematic review collated the results of almost 300 studies to look at how racism affects the physical and mental health of Asian American, African American, and Latinx American people.

The sections below will detail the conclusions of this review, as well as those of other studies.

Physical health

The aforementioned systematic review found that experiencing racism is associated with poor mental health and, to a lesser extent, poor physical health.

There is considerable research to suggest that the stress associated with experiencing racism can have long lasting physical effects.

Stress can elevate blood pressure and weaken the immune system, which, in turn, raises the risk of developing long-term health conditions.

Racism is associated with higher rates of stress, increasing a person of color’s risk of developing high blood pressure. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source report that Black people are more likely to have hypertension than any other racial or ethnic group.

Stress as a result of racism can also lead to behaviors that may cause further risk to physical health. For example, research has found that discrimination is linked to higher rates of smoking, alcohol use, drug use, and unhealthful eating habits.

Also, a 2019 study found that racist experiences appear to increase inflammation in African American people, raising their risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease and kidney disease.

Another study found that unfair treatment of people of color has a significant consequential effect on sleep and physiological functioning in midlife.

Many studies have cited structural racism within medical care as a key factor in poor physical health. For example, a 2016 study into racial bias and pain management found a link between undertreating pain in Black patients and false biological beliefs, such as, “Black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s skin.”

A 2015 study found that compared with other racial groups, Black children with severe pain from appendicitis are less likely to receive pain medication. This suggests that racial bias is causing medical professionals to use different thresholds of pain for different racial groups, either inadvertently or purposefully, before administering care.

Mental health

The 2015 meta-analysis found that racism is twice as likely to affect mental health than physical health. Of those the researchers sampled, BIPOC who reported experiences of racism also experienced the following mental health issues:



emotional distress


post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

suicidal thoughts

A 2011 meta-analysis of studies into racism and mental health among Asian American people also revealed significant relationships between racial discrimination and depression and anxiety.

A 2018 paper suggested that fear of racism itself is harmful, and that it can undermine good mental health characteristics, such as resilience, hope, and motivation. The paper also underlined how verbal and physical assault can cause PTSD.

Source: Medical News Today


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