A Constant Battle

Briefing 62: A constant battle

10 October 2023


Kadra Abdinasir and Dr Yasmin Ahmadzadeh

The negative effects of racism on mental health are far-reaching and pervasive, with severe intergenerational consequences. A Constant Battle investigates how experiences of racism towards both parents and children affect their mental health and parent-child interactions.

Based on research between Centre for Mental Health and King’s College London, the briefing highlights the way parents’ experience of racism affect their children’s mental health, and vice versa. Hearing from 14 parents and 14 teenagers from racialised communities, we were told about the “heavy” sadness parents felt at seeing their child experience racism at school, and the impact this had on both their child’s and their own mental health, as well as the way the dynamics between them.

“You’ve got to fight every battle, be it in a shop or in employment or at school or getting a place and doing something… it’s a constant battle that knocks you” (Parent)

“The question the children pose to me is often “why is it like this?”, “why is it not equal”? It’s all to do with equality. And that’s something I’m not very good at explaining” (Parent)

There is clear evidence that children of parents experiencing mental health difficulties are at a higher risk of experiencing those difficulties as well. The negative impact of racial discrimination on mental health has also been robustly established in research. However, the evidence on racism and its impact is much more advanced in the US than in the UK, and this study therefore fills a significant gap by highlighting the shared and distinct experiences of parents and teenagers within a UK context.

The briefing outlines that racism has far-reaching impacts on parents, their children, and the relationships between them. It also finds that daily experiences of racism also influence parent-child relationships, with parents attempting to limit their children’s exposure to racism and having to answer their children’s questions about racism.

Through the amplification of marginalised communities’ voices and experiences, this briefing offers significant insights to inform future policy and practice in the UK. It sets out concrete action across research, policy and practice – including calling on the Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England to fully resource work with racialised communities to design more racially equitable mental health support.

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