Existing inequalities have made mental health of BAME groups worse during pandemic, says Mind

A survey of over 14,000 adults by the mental health charity Mind has revealed that existing inequalities in housing, employment, finances and other issues have had a greater impact on the mental health of people from different Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) groups than white people during the coronavirus pandemic.

The online survey of over 25s in England and Wales found:

• Almost one in three (30 per cent) BAME people* said problems with housing made their mental health worse during the pandemic, compared to almost one in four (23 per cent) white people.
• Employment worries have negatively affected the mental health of 61 per cent of BAME people, compared to 51 per cent of white people
• Concerns about finances worsened the mental health of 52 per cent of people who identified as BAME, compared to 45 per cent of those who identified as white.
• Other issues saw a similar pattern, including getting support for a physical health problem (39 per cent vs 29 per cent) and being a carer (30 per cent vs 23 per cent).

Overall mental health and the impact of the pandemic on wellbeing were around the same for all groups – with around three in five (60 per cent) adults saying their mental health has got worse during lockdown – but the charity says the findings raise concerns that the fall-out of the pandemic will disproportionately affect some communities far into the future.

The immediate impact of isolation, fears about the virus itself and inadequate access to NHS mental health services will, for many, ease as lockdown is lifted and life starts to return to normal. However, problems with housing, employment and finances will likely last for much longer and become worse as the emergency government measures introduced to protect people from evictions, unemployment and redundancy – including furlough, better Statutory Sick Pay and Universal Credit – come to an end.

This is particularly worrying given demand for advice to help people with housing, benefits and finances is already higher among BAME communities. Survey respondents who identified as BAME were more likely than those who identified as white to need advice about money and benefits (40 per cent vs 24 per cent) and housing (19 per cent vs 10 per cent) to help manage their mental health.

Dami is a 27-year-old freelance actor, producer, documentary maker and part-time teacher, who has symptoms of anxiety and depression. He spent most of his life in London, but currently lives in Luton with his parents, due to issues around his mental health, job insecurity and finances. Although he had mental health problems before lockdown, they have worsened in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. The lockdown has exacerbated his financial, employment and housing issues, leaving him wondering what the future holds.

Dami says: “Last year I quit full time teaching and moved back home to save money and pursue my creative passions. Being back at home caused my mental health to suffer, and just as I was trying to process those feelings, lockdown hit. I was teaching part time with an agency, so my income and creative work was cut off. I’d always planned to move back to London this summer but now I can’t.

“Dealing with all of that, and with lockdown – the isolation, the lack of friends, being stuck in a city I can’t call home – was all piling onto me mentally. Then the Government statistics came out showing that Black people were at higher risk of dying from coronavirus and it put me in a downward spiral. A virus can’t discriminate, but there’s a system that’s been in place for years, that makes us more vulnerable. The Government produce reports, but at the end of the day they don’t care: it’s common sense that we need to invest to prevent these issues. Then everything in America started to happen, which brings a whole collective trauma.

“Last week I had a panic attack thinking about my future. On top of the work, money and housing issues, I want to change the landscape of the film industry, which is still so White, but with everything going on I don’t know how to even begin to tackle this. I’m doing better now by trying not to plan too much for the future, because it makes my mental health worse. I’m working on myself and taking it day by day, but it is scary knowing some of my problems won’t end when lockdown does.”

Marcel Vige, Head of Equality Improvement at Mind, said: “As society faces up to the discriminatory impact of coronavirus on particular BAME groups, including rates of infection and tragic loss of life, our survey provides evidence of how people within these groups are also being hit hardest by mental health problems stemming from economic impact of COVID-19 on areas such as housing and employment.

“In the midst of protests calling out systemic racism, we’re urging the Government to address such deep-seated inequalities experienced by particular BAME groups. Social injustice and systemic inequality will not go away in the natural course of the nation’s recovery from the pandemic. In fact, injustice and inequality are likely to increase as temporary supportive measures – such as the furlough scheme and pausing benefit sanctions – come to an end.

“The Government must urgently plan for recovery from both the immediate mental health crisis we are facing, and the longer-term fall out of the pandemic on our mental health. Addressing deep-rooted racial inequality – including within detaining (‘sectioning’) of people in crisis under the Mental Health Act – is key to supporting good mental health amongst Black people, South Asian heritage people and other minority ethnic groups at the sharp end of such inequality. Delivering this means providing access to timely, effective, culturally-appropriate mental health services, tailored to counteract the impact of trauma and multiple disadvantages still pervasive in our society.”