Race and ethnicity

Race and ethnicity

Theoretical presuppositions

It’s important to note that many social policies have been influenced by eugenics principles. This means that, historically and to an extent today, social policies that intertwine considerations of race and mental health challenges are in fact racist.

Race and health

A full account of race and mental health challenges would need to account for: genetics, migration, material disadvantage, cultural factors, and racism.

Unfortunately, most accounts do not take all those factors into consideration.

Some of the following notes are taken from evidence collected in the UK, and therefore use terminology that is specific to that location. I apologise for the language used in this as I believe that people would prefer to identify themselves differently.

Compared to white people, people of African-Caribbean descent have lower rates of anxiety but higher rates of depression. Importantly, treatment rates for people of African-Caribbean descent are lower than those for white people.

People of colour are more likely to experience psychosis than white people, and this is mostly explained by high levels of social disadvantage across the lifespan.

When considering the above, caution must be taken because:

  1. Racial stratification is ever-present in white-dominated ‘developed’ societies. (placing developed into quotations because the definitions of developed tend to be very Eurocentric)
  2. The privilege of the dominant group (generally white people) is protected by claims of objectivity.
  3. Racial categories are often invented, manipulated and reproduced for political and ideological reasons. (while this sounds like an erasure of race, it is more to acknowledge that ideological beliefs surrounding superiority/inferiority of different races often influences policy)
  4. Racially oppressed groups can account for these processes if we were to listen to lived accounts.
  5. Critical race theory is predicted primarily on the aim of social justice claims rather than claims of scientific disinterest.

People of African-Caribben descent are much more likely than white people to make contact with mental health services via the legal system (courts, police, and prisons), but it is important to note that it is not the behaviour of people of colour that is the issue. It is the way in which other people react to their behaviour.

The over-representation of people of colour with diagnoses, which are often the result of involuntary detention, reveals that psychiatric theory and practice is part of wider racism in society.

The somatisation thesis

Women of South Asian descent often present mental distress as bodily symptoms. This is called the somatisation thesis.

This leads to a variety of problems when Westernised medicine attempts to address mental health challenges in women of South Asian descent, mainly because the oresentation of bodily symptoms is ambiguous. This leads to:

  1. Non-recognition of mental health challenges
  2. Non-recognition of link between physical ailments and emotional states
  3. Presentation of ailments despite some recognition of challenges to mental health
  4. Non-presentation of symptoms of mental health challenges to biomedical doctors.

The Western cultural imperialism of the psychiatric profession means that many women of South Asian descent are not appropriately assisted with challenges to mental health.


This is part of a series of summaries that I am doing in order to revise Sociology of Mental Health. It won’t be shared on social media, but anyone is welcome to read these posts if they would be of interest.

If you would like to read more, most of this information came from this book.