This month, the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) published a new report looking at race and mental health in the workplace, and the results are telling. Nearly half of Black people and roughly a quarter of East Asian, South Asian and Mixed Race employees reported they have experienced racism at work.
Of those who said they have experienced racism at work, 64% Black, 59% Asian and 48% of Mixed Race people reported it negatively impacted their mental health and wellbeing to a very large, large or moderate extent – more so than if they had experienced it in any other setting.
To put it simply, the report concluded that racism, feelings of not belonging and a pressure to adjust their behaviour to fit in meant that People of Colour and Black people are more likely to have experiences at work that negatively impact on their mental health compared to White British colleagues.
As a social enterprise, it’s our mission to improve mental health confidence and skills, break down stigma, and drive positive culture change in the workplace through our training and consultancy. As an anti-racist organisation, we also have to make sure that this mission is delivered for everyone, equally, and that we live out these values in everything that we do.
So how can we address these mental health inequalities which disproportionately affect People of Colour and Black colleagues? Where do we start? I’ve had these discussions with a number of organisations over the last year, all of whom were keen to make a difference.
When I hosted an MHFA England webinar last year which explored ways in which to better support the mental health of People of Colour and Black colleagues, only 16% of our audience said they would feel confident and comfortable having a conversation about racism at work.
Just like mental health, the starting point for improvement is opening a conversation, but clearly not enough conversations about race are happening at work. We’ve worked with thousands of organisations to break down the stigma that prevents important conversations about mental ill health from happening. How can we expect these statistics around race and mental health to improve if we are not brave enough to talk about the issues causing them?
A key first step is to recognise that there is a stigma and look it in the eye. Myself and our leadership teams have had both important and uncomfortable conversations about the reality of race equity in our own organisation. Since our statement of intent a year ago, our White colleagues have had to learn to lean into that uncomfortable feeling, because this feeling is crucial to becoming a truly authentic ally, and must be embraced to achieve true progress in our organisation and society as whole.
Do the People of Colour and Black people in your organisation feel included and that they can be authentic at work? Less than half feel they cannot be their ‘real self’ at work and think their colleagues know the ‘real’ them.
What’s the make-up of your leadership team? Black people hold just 1.5% of leadership positions across the public and private sector in the UK.
How are People of Colour and Black people paid in your organisation compared to White people? On average, Black workers with degrees earn 23.1% less than White workers.
How do these statistics look when we consider intersectional identities, where Black People and People of Colour are also women, non-binary, LGBT+, or disabled? More than half of lesbian, bisexual and trans Black and minority ethnic women (54%) report unwanted touching compared to around one third of White women (31%).
These are the sorts of questions we need to ask ourselves if we are to improve mental health outcomes for everyone.
It’s also important to understand some of the wider societal inequalities that impact mental health outcomes for People of Colour and Black people. The CMHA report found that they are more likely to experience cultural and family stigma around talking about mental health than White people, and wider research finds that Black people are four times more likely to be sectioned and less likely to access suitable therapy. Racism remains by far the most common recorded motivation for hate crime, at 82%.
If these statistics are uncomfortable to read, that may be because the narrative around race, racism, and the mental health impacts on People of Colour and Black people has been mistold for a long time. It may feel daunting to speak about them in the workplace, but if we are brave enough to ask the difficult questions, the workplace can be a driver for wider societal change in attitudes to race and mental health.
Leaders are important in driving any culture change, and for anything to stick it has to be driven from the top-down. This month we were delighted to launch our new course, Race Equity and Mental Health, for senior leaders looking to challenge racism from the top and build an equitable organisation for all employees. We also have some free guidance on supporting the mental health of People of Colour and Black people for everyone to use.
If we build workplaces where we don’t acknowledge the inequity faced by People of Colour and Black people in the workplace, we run the risk of negatively impacting the mental health of people in those groups. But by empowering each other with knowledge, confidence and skills to look at our workplaces through a truly anti-racist lens, we can start to turn the tide and build a future of mental health at work which supports everyone.
Race Equity and Mental Health: https://mhfaengland.org/organisations/workplace/race-equity-mental-health/
Supporting the mental health of People of Colour and Black people: https://mhfaengland.org/my-whole-self/anti-racist/supporting-Black-colleagues.pdf
With thanks to Ama Afrifa-Tchie – Head of People, Wellbeing and Equity at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.