Adults and children can be equally affected by the stress and anxiety that the coronavirus crisis can cause. The gap through which vulnerable children can fall has the potential to grow much wider when times are turbulent, with schooling interrupted and already hard-pressed services losing staff to redeployment, illness or caring duties. Unable to talk and socialise with their friends as they usually would, many children today are anxious about when they will see their grandparents and other family members, concerned about their safety at school and worrying about birthday parties and other events being cancelled.
Depression and poor mental health has been on the rise in young people as a whole over the last year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but data released by mental health service Kooth has shown that the problem is especially pressing among children and young people from black, asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. In fact, while depression saw a 16.2% decrease among white children and young people in March-May 2020 when compared to the same period of the previous year, depression in BAME young people saw an increase of 9.2%.
For young white people, suicidal thoughts have increased in prevalence by 18.1% and anxiety/stress by 3%. In BAME young people, these same numbers have increased by 26.6% and 11.4% respectively.
“The mental health of BAME communities is important because people from these communities often face individual and societal challenges that can affect access to healthcare and overall mental and physical health.” – Mental Health Foundation
Popular psychology says that “all behaviour is communication”, and this is particularly accurate when a young person begins to self harm. Self harm is also becoming increasingly common in white and BAME communities, with the problem growing by 29.5% in BAME children and young people and 24.9% in white young people. In many cases, this self-harm will occur as a result of difficult emotions and experiences such as:
- Feeling isolated, out of control or frustrated;
- Anxiety, body issues or depression;
- Grieving or family problems.
“There might be another coronavirus outbreak because people are too close together and I’m scared that it’s just going to ruin my last year of primary and the start of secondary school. If there is anyone out there who knows what I mean, please give advice. Anything would help.” – Comment from a young BAME person on Kooth.
Many children and teenagers are labeled ‘difficult’ when they fail to cooperate, but often there’s something more going on under the surface. With reasons being different for every young person or child, the causes of self-harm in kids are often complicated. As these problems continue to grow, it’s recommended that those working with young people from diverse backgrounds – including, but not limited to, medical and mental health practitioners – work to make sure that those from different backgrounds feel understood and to minimise any existing barriers to understanding.
“Many BAME children and young people feel barriers to cultural understanding are reduced when speaking to a practitioner from their community. They also feel they can talk about issues of race and culture freely, without fears of judgement and or racism in response.” – Aisha Gordon-Hiles, counsellor and therapeutic content writer for XenZone.
It is worth keeping in mind that the term “BAME” is used to describe a wide range of people from a variety of different backgrounds, and the needs of these individuals are equally diverse. Mental health is viewed and experienced differently from one ethnic group to the next, and an understanding of this is necessary for treatment to be effective.
“In addition to this, having BAME role models in the field of mental health is particularly important for CYP from BAME communities. This is because disclosures of mental health and wellbeing issues are less culturally appropriate in a lot of these communities.” – Gordon-Hiles.
Both during the pandemic and moving forward, we all need to stop preventing ourselves from looking any further than necessary into potential issues, as this is one of the biggest blocks we create when caring for young people. On top of the impact of the pandemic, the mental health of young people from BAME communities can also be influenced by:
- Social and economic inequalities;
- Cultural stigma around mental health;
- Criminal justice system;
- Discrimination and racism.
“I really feel like I’m going to self harm again. I haven’t for months but now the urge is coming back. I just feel so numb. I’m just watching my life and it’s not real. I don’t care about school work but im stressed that its piling up. I should be doing school work but I can’t face it. I could never tell my family this and definitely not that I’m gay. Suicide may be my only way out.” – Comment from a young BAME person on Kooth.
Mental health problems can be seen in a negative light in some communities, and as a result are rarely spoken about. But some opportunity to talk must be provided. After all, in 2020, 32.3% of young BAME people surveyed presented with anxiety and stress, making it by far the biggest issue raised by the group. The prevalence of anxiety and stress in this group was almost three times higher than its prevalence in the survey sample as a whole, of whom just 11.4% raised this issue.
Read All About It
- Mermon A., Taylor K., Mohebati L.M et al. (2016) Perceived barriers to accessing mental health services among black and minority ethnic (BME) communities: a qualitative study in Southeast England. BMJ Open 2016
- Suicides in the UK: 2018 registrations
- The Health Foundation: Health Equity in England – The Marmot Review 10 Years On.
- Annual Review of Public Health: Mental Health Consequences of Disasters.
You can learn more about depression and mental health in our book, The Essential Guide to Depression.