KATHRYN MULLEN - (@KathrynMu11en)
Discrimination. The term used to depict unfair treatment of a person simply for having different coloured skin to us, or for being a different age, sex, sexual preference or even ability. It leads to action that is quick to occur, often impulsive, and usually carried out with little thought of the impact on those at the receiving end.
The link between discrimination and public mental health can be explained within the ‘Minority Stress Model’. This has been described as ‘being related to the juxtaposition of minority and dominant values and the resultant conflict with the social environment experienced by minority group members’ (Meyer, 1995). Put more simply, challenging social experiences cause more stress in minority groups due to increased levels of stigma.
To make things even more difficult, it is apparent that those who identify themselves as belonging to multiple minority groups are at an even higher risk of poor mental health as a result of discrimination. Khan et al (2017) looked at the impact of ‘multifactorial discrimination’ on the mental health of 396 male and female participants who were lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) and either White, Black/African-American or Latino/Hispanic. NB: The study did not include any trans people as participants or represent other groups who may also experience significant discrimination.
Kahn et al found that both racism and homophobia were greater predictors of psychological distress, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and substance misuse in LGB ethnic minority participants than among their white LGB counterparts.
One explanation for this may be related to how important a person’s sexuality identity is to their self identity and daily lives. For example some members of the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) community may feel that being LGB is more salient to them than other members. Could it be that those who don’t perceive it as such a prominent aspect of their lives are simply less affected by any discrimination they receive?
Secondly, social support networks are also relevant, which are of course a powerful determinant of mental wellbeing. These networks may differ depending on the multifactorial discrimination experienced. For example, while it is not uncommon for ethnic minority communities to provide social support networks to each other from the get-go (i.e. birth), LGB communities may not experience this support until later in life and may need to seek it out off their own back. If we broaden this to include support for those with multiple minority identities, it may be that the support once again changes and may be only partial. So for example, if we consider a person of ethnic minority who is LGB, it may be that while they receive social support for the experiences that occur as a result of their ethnic identity, that same community may not be able to offer such support for their experiences from identifying as LGB (Bostwick, 2014). A disconnect that may well be a result of cultural traditions or religious views.
Here in the UK, in a society where groups with multiple characteristics are growing and minorities are becoming less of a minority, it’s startling that such discrimination still exists. If we can take a step back and recognise the link between multifactorial discrimination and mental health we will be better placed to build a society that doesn’t accept stigma as the norm. Only then can community support, resilience and public mental health really flourish.