How racism impacts my mental health
Sian, 19, shares how racism affects her mental health, and what helps her cope.
With the protests in the USA spreading to the UK, lots of people are having discussions about racism now, which is really important. I want to talk a bit about how racism affects my mental health.
Why representation matters
Growing up, Black people in the media were not portrayed in positive ways. I never saw adverts of Black women or adverts promoting products for us. And this is still the case today. When I see shampoo adverts on TV, they are always for straight hair.
Seeing these adverts over the years led me to believe that white features - their hair, eyes and lighter skin tone - were better. This brought on issues with my identity and the way I looked. I looked into getting contact lenses and I used to straighten my hair behind my mum’s back, causing damage to it. The struggle with my identity made me feel worthless, depressed and anxious about the way I was.
Everyday racism and my mental health
Racism is real. A lot of white people don't understand that and they think racism starts once we riot or something. But racism, directly or indirectly, touches every person of colour and has an effect on our mental health.
For example, when I go shopping I am sometimes followed or, most often, watched in the shops. It creates a large amount of anxiety for me and can sometimes cause me to have an anxiety attack. I think a lot about what I'm going to wear out of fear of people stereotyping me. Sometimes this means I'm not able to wear what I feel comfortable in. People may not see this, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
The current #BlackLivesMatter movement
At the moment, it seems like there are many people who are supporting the movement for racial equality, which feels great and makes me feel hopeful. But in discussions about race and the Black Lives Matter protests we are also hearing the voices of people who are racist, which can make me feel worthless and lose hope in humanity in a way – it leaves me thinking I'm going to have to struggle the way I am for the rest of my life and so will my kids, which can make me feel quite depressed.
I also read people saying ‘all lives matter’. I understand the phrase but I can’t agree because, right now, it feels like ours clearly do not.
Tips for coping
Because I think of race as a part of me and who I am, it's not possible to make it go away, so it's something I've had to learn to live with – something I am still learning to do.
When managing any issues with race I think it's important to learn about all the powerful and famous Black people who have done amazing things in this world and just see yourself as one of those. Do your research on your history and learn to relate and love other Black people and yourself.
It’s also important to surround yourself with more Black people; for example, try to watch movies with more Black people in, or follow Black YouTubers or influencers. This will just make you feel more comfortable with seeing Black people and, eventually and maybe subconsciously, you will learn to love yourself and what you are.
You will come to realise that Black people are just as worthy of love as everyone else and shouldn't be treated any less. It is the world that’s wrong, not you. So embrace your identity and love what makes you, you.
Why fill your heart with hate when you can fill it with love?
A lot of racism is learnt from our parents and families. So don't be afraid to do your own research and find out positive things about Black people. Most importantly, don't be afraid to speak up to your parents or other family members or even friends if they're being racist - you should never be afraid to speak up about something if it's wrong.
Thank you to those speaking up, and to the white people are able to empathise and look at things from our point of view, and I appreciate them.
Lastly I would like to ask: Why fill your heart with hate when you can fill it with love?
Author: Sian, 19
Where to get help
Have a look at our page on racism and mental health for more information on how experiencing racism can affect your mental health, and where you can go for support.