Mental health disparities: minority groups

Minority groups such as ethnic minorities, those with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ communities often suffer from poor mental health. Inclusion & Diversity Consultant, Naz Mir, explores the topic of mental health in the context of protected characteristics such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, age and disability and gives advice on how we can all support the mental health of colleagues through an inclusion lens.

Understanding and supporting positive mental health seems to be a key priority for many organisations and individuals. But still, according to the Mental Health Foundation, 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems say stigma and discrimination associated with it has negatively affected their lives. It seems the conversation on mental health has been on the table for a while and yet we’re still seeing harmful stereotypes being upheld. Why is this?

Mental ill health isn’t a factor that can be considered mutually exclusive to one’s identity and lived experiences. When thinking about mental health, one broad brush approach does not suit everyone and who, why and how people are impacted by mental ill health can be a very individual experience.

From a personal perspective, this conversation is important to me having lost my uncle to suicide in 2017. He was a 38-year-old father of 4 with his whole future ahead of him. The following year, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety myself. I had to take time off work and get support through talking therapies and medication, which now I feel privileged to say is under control. The questions I’ve always asked: “what made our experiences different?”, “why was I able to ask for help but my uncle wasn’t?” “Aside from the circumstances, was there a difference in our identities and how we ‘fit’ into those roles that made it easier for me to speak up?”

To understand this, we must look at what makes people at greater risk to mental ill health. Research shows, those from vulnerable groups, those that experience trauma and stressful life events, poverty and unemployment, isolation, loneliness, and discrimination can be considered as being at highest risk. If we look at this through the lens of the Equality Act 2010 and protected characteristics, data shows:

Age

50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24, yet 70% of those who experience mental health problems as children and adolescents have not had sufficient interventions at an early enough stage. In older groups, depression can impact 1 in 4, with fewer than 1 in 6 seeking help.

Gender reassignment

27% of trans youths have attempted suicide whilst 89% have thought about it. Across all ages, 48% of trans people in Britain have attempted suicide at least once.

Ethnicity

According to Mind Black African and Caribbean people in the UK are less likely to have common mental health problems but are more likely to be diagnosed with severe mental health problems than other ethnicities. They are also more likely to be held under the Mental Health Act.

Sexual orientation

Research between Stonewall and YouGov found that 52% of LGBT people have experienced depression. Bi women presented the greatest risk to experiencing anxiety (72%) and self harm (28%) in the community.

Disability

On average, disabled people have poorer ratings than non disabled people on all four personal wellbeing measures (Happiness, worthwhile, life satisfaction and anxiety). ONS data also shows that 13% of disabled people have reported feeling lonely “often or always”, four times more than non-disabled people. 

Although not a protected characteristic, gender comes into play here too. Lower socio-economic white men are 3 times more likely to die by suicide than women with the most common age group being between 40-49.

The important thing to note is that the above just is the tip of the iceberg, there are lots of identities, groups, experiences we haven’t highlighted, and these are just as important when it comes to supporting mental health in our organisations.

Whether creating mental health interventions is part of our role, or whether we are a colleague to a team of people, we can all do something to understand and support a proactive approach to challenging mental ill health.

Here are our tips to support mental health in colleagues, particularly those from minority groups:

1. Understand the nuances and narratives for certain groups

Very much like the above, it’s important to understand that people from different groups and experiences may have poor mental health for different reasons. Remember it’s not just depression and anxiety, there are other mental health issues that may be present including, eating and body disorders, personality disorders, PTSD, and others.

2. Intersectionality

Whilst data shows that different groups are at more risk than others, it’s important for us to also focus on the intersections of the most vulnerable identities. Black trans women face erasure, murder, and lack of legislative protection, which can all have a huge impact on mental health. So, whilst we can see trends across groups, we should also highlight the importance of where some of those groups overlap and understand that each individual will have a unique experience of mental ill health.

3. Silent communities

The truth is, there isn’t tonnes and tonnes of data out there for the more silent communities when it comes to the conversation on mental health. If we look at the LGBTQ+ community, the ‘silent letters’ are sometimes lumped under a larger umbrella term, the same could be said about ethnic minorities. Having an appreciation that people in our teams may be from smaller, less represented communities can again help us to broaden our approach to supporting those with mental ill health.

4. Be the one to start and continue the conversation

Whether we are the owner of the mental wellbeing policy and process, a manager, or a teammate, we can all be the one to keep the topic on the table. It may be that you can embed it as part of 1-2-1 conversations with line managers, or maybe there are some learning interventions you can introduce to raise awareness during key calendar dates across the year. Creating a culture where people can ask for support if needed, is the ultimate goal.

5. Know the support available and your role in intervention

Do you have an Employee Assistance Programme? Are managers equipped to identify signs of what might constitute as mental ill health, and do they know where to signpost more support? What about situations of crisis, is it clear how you can help in those instances? The CIPD offers good support on all those considerations for organisations, including guidance on suicide risk in the workplace.

Remember, no one in the organisation is expected to act like a licensed therapist or doctor, so knowing other avenues support is critical in providing the right support for those who need it.

COVID has tipped the balance for the worse

Lack of access to healthcare, isolation, physical ill health, lack of human connections and the potential risk of being in unsafe environments has left the most vulnerable at greater risk to mental ill health over the last 15-18 months. So it may be at this time that people are looking for continued support to navigate through challenging times. Think about how your organisation can continue to be inclusive and accommodating for people as we move into a ‘hybrid’ model of working to support ongoing mental health.

Put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help others

It really is true; we can’t pour from an empty cup. But human nature dictates that we will want to help those around us however we can. Much like my own journey, explore your own identity, think about your own mental health and focus on what impacts you and how you can thrive first in order to then be a supportive colleague to others.

Don’t forget, 10th October marks World Mental Health Day, so start the conversation in your organisations and keep the momentum going. Members who would like more support can access our Mental Health members resources, speak to your Account Manager or book your free place on our Mental Health Awareness webinar on 26th October.

If you’re not yet a Member but would like more support with this topic, you can find out more about Inclusive Employers membership or explore our mental health training options.