Black Asian Minority Ethnicities (BAME) were the worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and BAME youth are now facing an unhealthier aftermath. Compared to white youth, the mental health of ethnic minority youth is weakening. Systematic issues are preventing the right treatment reaching them. This includes lack of representation in various aspects of the healthcare industry from high ranking officials to counselors. As well as this, stereotypes that lead to microaggressions are likely to discourage individuals from choosing medical help.
Since the Coronavirus arrived in the UK, it has disproportionately affected ethnic minority communities, facilitated by the lack of funding for the NHS in areas that have a higher number of ethnic minorities. As the COVID death rate skyrocketed and other socio-economic factors were affected, below it mental health illnesses began brewing too.
Why is there an increase in mental illnesses among BAME youth?
In the UK, there have been a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among ethnic minorities. A study reported that South Asian COVID related deaths were twice as high and Black African Brits deaths were three times higher than those of white patients.
Then the economic recession hit. BAME migrants and employees were more likely to have lost their jobs or were 40% less likely to receive furlough benefits, because service industries tend to have more Black and ethnic minority workers.
The recent A-Levels results fiasco that algorithmically downgraded a third of exam results deepened the iceberg. Most of the downgrades happened in schools of low-income areas that tend to have a higher population of ethnic minorities. This created uncertainty for many BAME students who were set to start their university life. Experiencing the front of the pandemic with the worst economic crisis in 300 years and facing uncertainty or the inability to attend school or university, mental health issues like anxiety and depression became inevitable for young people.
Mental illnesses did also become widespread when lockdown started as isolation increased loneliness. In March, 44% of survey participants reported having “high levels of anxiety”. The number is said to be higher now especially for BAME youth who witnessed the biggest socio-economic blows. Taking the pandemic out of the picture, ethnic minorities are more prone to mental health illnesses due to inequalities in society. This includes racism, prejudice, workplace discrimination etc.
What is preventing BAME patients from receiving adequate care and treatment?
The following aspects in the healthcare industry have led to systematic racism and negligence that prevents BAME patients receiving the right mental healthcare.
1. Lack of representation
The British Psychological Society has stated that the imbalance in the demographics of mental health professionals is concerning. The field of psychology loses out on the talents of many individuals but also understanding the societal inequalities that can cause mental health problems in ethnic minorities. The field is dominated by white professionals. There are cultural and sometimes language barriers for BAME patients to easily express themselves. This can prevent accurate diagnosis.
Mental health illnesses are delicate in nature. Less diversity causes systematic racism that intensifies lack of inclusion. Naturally, BAME patients would less likely approach mental healthcare as there aren’t enough people of colour in this field to understand their problems, beyond the diagnosis and medical terminology. Also, by having fewer numbers of BAME high ranking officials, this chain is difficult to break as fewer professionals of colour will be hired.
2. Aversive racism and microaggressions
Aversive racism is defined as bias without intention. In a psychotherapy setting, it can cause more harm to the patient as it can prevent a patient from voicing their concerns or continuing with their treatment. For example, a counsellor or therapist would be more likely to take on cases of individuals from a particular background or showcase more care to some patients.
Similarly, with microaggressions, a certain response from a therapist can trigger or create a barrier between the patient and doctor. This is seen through subtle gestures or implementing stereotypes about a community. For example, African and African Caribbean men are more likely to be referred for having severe symptoms. It is due to the stereotype that black men are considered to be aggressive and dangerous. They will usually receive stronger treatment than needed which in turn can make their mental health worse. There is often no authentic voice to break those stereotypes, so the cycle continues.
It is not new that the NHS is heavily underfunded and understaffed. It has reduced the quality of care and access to healthcare facilities. Research by Nuffield Trust found that people living in poorer regions face worse quality care. So, fewer people choose to receive treatment from the NHS. Majority of people living in low-income areas are of an ethnic minority background. They cannot afford private healthcare and end up suffering in silence. As a result, they are more likely to end up in critical or emergency care as early intervention was not present.
We can’t go back in time and save all the people who died from the Coronavirus, but we can provide the families with better access and support for mental healthcare moving forward. The numbers clearly show this is not something to be pushed under the carpet. The government needs to increase funding for the NHS especially, in low income areas. This will get rid of structural issues like lack of resources and it will increase accessibility and good quality healthcare. More patients will be willing to opt for these services.
Universities and colleges need to teach how one can address microaggressions in psychotherapy. No one is born racist. If a child learns racism from society, one can be taught accountability as well. If counsellors and therapists address and acknowledge their biases then the probability of microaggressions and inaccurate diagnosis will be less.
Also, better representation of BAME professionals in the NHS is necessary. This can further help eradicate stereotypes and subtle racism. Higher education institutes and the government can provide more scholarships for higher studies for BAME students pursuing a career in healthcare. This will aid in hiring more ethnic minority professionals especially for top level roles in the NHS. By having more representation in all professional levels of the NHS, ethnic minority patients would be more likely to opt for early medical help as there will be a safe space where their issues can be easily understood and given the attention they deserve. If the mental health of ethnic minorities is healthy, it will be easier for them to excel in other fields and break down barriers there.