Experiencing racism can affect our mental health.

Everyone struggling with their mental health deserves support and respect but unfortunately, we don't always get it when we need it. Sadly, Black people are less likely to receive support than White people. 

That's not to say that every person of colour will have a poor experience of seeking help. Nor that every service will treat people unfairly. Excellent care does exist and seeking professional help is an important step towards feeling better.

Here at Teesside Mind we’re committed to becoming actively anti-racist in everything we do.

Racism and your mental health

Our experiences of racism are also personal to each one of us and they are linked to many other factors.

You might find that you:

  • face overlapping discrimination to do with other aspects of your identity, like your gender, sexuality or religion
  • feel that some experiences apply to you directly while others don't
  • feel differently about your experiences at different stages in your life

You’re not alone, but your life experience is still unique to you.

How can racism affect your mental health?

Racism can affect people in lots of different ways. It may make you feel:

Unwelcome, lonely or isolated

Especially if people or organisations have said or implied that you don't belong.

Anxious, fearful and unsafe

You may worry about how people are going to perceive and treat you. You might feel visibly different and vulnerable when you are around lots of people of a different race. You may spend time thinking about how you'll protect yourself before entering certain spaces.

Angry or frustrated

Particularly if you're being treated unfairly, and if you feel powerless to control it.


All kinds of racism can contribute to stress. This might be events such as sudden, unexpected abuse from another person. But it can also be a more long-term impact of encountering regular microaggressions. Or from the ongoing effects of systemic racism on your life. This can partly help explain links between racism and physical health problems, like increased blood pressure.

Unusual and strange

Especially if people highlight, mock or criticise things that are 'different' about you. This process of making you feel as if you don't fit society's norms is sometimes called being 'othered'.

Confused or unsure about whether you've experienced racism

This is especially true if others ignore or deny your experiences. It can make you question your reality. This is sometimes referred to as racial gaslighting.

Forced to suppress how you feel

You may find that you can't show or even fully feel your natural responses to your experiences. To avoid more abuse, and keep yourself safe, you may feel like you must not react to racism. This can leave you feeling numb, or mean that the experience stays with you for a long time.

Overwhelmed or worn down

You may encounter racism regularly in lots of different parts of your life. This can have a cumulative effect on your mental health. You may feel surrounded by racism.

Risk of specific mental health problems

Our experiences can also contribute to specific mental health problems, including:

  • anxiety disorders
  • depression
  • psychosis
  • suicidal feelings

If you experience any of these effects, it's important to remember that it is not your fault.

Being a particular race does not cause mental health problems. It’ the racism you encounter in the world that may contribute to you feeling unwell.

Supporting your mental health

Finding support to cope with racism does not fix racism. Institutions and society as a whole must take responsibility for challenging racism in every form.

However, seeking help can be an important step towards improving your mental health, and feeling better.

Ways to support your mental health

Therapy and counselling

This involves talking things through with a professional and can give you space to explore difficult feelings and experiences, including racism.

There's no specific recommended therapy for racial trauma but you might find it helpful to explore

  • different types of talking therapy

  • treatment and support for trauma

  • treatment for post traumatic stress disorder

Different people find different therapies helpful at different times and the relationship you build with your therapist matters a lot. Whether they understand racism and are culturally competent can make a big difference to how helpful therapy can be.

Peer support

Connecting and sharing with others who have similar experiences can be very helpful. You might want to meet people who share your experiences of mental health problems, or racism, or both.

To find a peer support group:

  • our peer support pages are a great starting point

  • Hub of Hope lets you search for local services near you, including support groups

  • Rethink's online support group directory shows any groups they have in your area

Side by Side is national Mind's supportive online community where you can feel at home talking about your mental health and experiences.

Self care to cope with racism

Self care can be a powerful way to reject negative messages about your identity or your worth.

It's something you can control. You can decide when and how you show yourself kindness and it can help build up your energy and strength.

When you feel able, here are some self-care ideas to try:

Talk to someone you trust

Speaking to someone who understands racism can be helpful. It may be that having someone listen to you and show they care can help in itself.

You may want to speak to someone you know. Or you might feel more comfortable speaking to someone you don't know.

Build your self esteem

Try and take time to praise yourself and think about what you're proud of. For example, you could think about your character traits, skills or things you’ve done.

Celebrate your identity

You could spend time thinking about what makes you happy and what you value in life. For example, you could think about any activities you enjoy or people you like spending time with.

This may help you get to know yourself and challenge racist assumptions about who you are – and who you aren't.

You may also find it helpful to connect with people who share your racial identity, to enjoy and celebrate your culture.

Try mindfulness and relaxation

Mindfulness is a technique you can learn. It involves making a special effort to notice what's happening in the present moment – without judging anything. It aims to help you feel calmer, manage your thoughts, and be kinder towards yourself.

You don't have to be spiritual, or have any particular beliefs, to try it.

Find out more

Get creative

Getting creative can help you express thoughts and feelings that are weighing on your mind. You could use dancing, making music, painting, poetry, writing or any other creative activity.

Find Out More

Look after your physical health

Experiencing racism can affect our body as well as our mind. Physical health and mental health are connected, so looking after one can boost both.

Being active doesn't have to mean doing sports or going to the gym a lot – although that works well for some people. But there are plenty of things you could try and at any level of fitness or ability.

See our pages on food and mood and physical health for some ideas.

You may also find that spending time in nature helps improve your physical health and your mood.

Find out more

Take care with social media and the news

Seeing news stories or social media content about racism might sometimes make you feel anxious or overwhelmed. In this case, you could think about switching off or limiting what you look at for a while.

If a particular person on your social media is upsetting you, think about blocking them to give yourself space.

Remember, racist abuse or bullying online could be a hate crime. If you see racist abuse happen online

  • you could report the user to the site if it’s moderated

  • you can report hate crimes to the police using the True Vision website

you might be able to report it through Stop Hate UK

Be kind to yourself

You may find that examining your experiences is helpful at some times, but not all the time.

It can be good to spend a while sitting with your experiences but it's also ok to try and take a break from thinking about them when this feels useful.

Try to treat yourself the way you would treat a friend and give yourself space when you need it.

Remember, different things work at different times for different people. If you've tried something and it hasn't helped, try to be gentle and patient with yourself. Over time, you might develop your own tips too.

Overcoming barriers to getting support

Seeking help for your mental health isn't always easy.

It can be especially hard when services aren't designed for you, or if you encounter racism within the system. It can be distressing and tiring to feel like you've tried everything and still not got the support you need. Or to feel like you're being re-traumatised by the services you've asked for help.

It's important to remember that you don't deserve to be treated unfairly.

What you can do

Speak to the service about your concerns

By reaching out and sharing your views, the service can reflect, learn and do better. If speaking to them informally doesn't get outcome you need, you can take things further.

Make a formal complaint

It’s illegal for UK healthcare providers to discriminate based on your race. If you think you've been discriminated against, you can make a complaint.

We know that complaining might not always feel like a safe or effective option. If you're unsure, call us on 01642 257020 for advice and we can help provide information about the laws related to mental health.

Find an advocate

Advocacy means getting support from another person to help you express yourself and stand up for your rights. Someone who helps you in this way is called your advocate.

Our advocacy team can support you.

Find Out More

Get support from specialist organisations

Knowing there is somewhere to turn where you’ll be listened to and supported makes a big difference. Here are some organisations we know can help

The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network

Muslim Women Network (mwnuk.co.uk)

Home - Muslim Youth Helpline (myh.org.uk)

The Qur’an & Emotional Health: An Introduction - Suffolk Mind

FAQs (blackmindsmatteruk.com)

Black Students @ NUS Connect

Home (studentspace.org.uk)

Our community outreach team is also here to support you

Find Out More