Children and young people from BAME communities can experience varying degrees of physical and verbal racism and discrimination in their personal lives. This can commonly occur in the form of in schools. Unsurprisingly, research suggests that experiencing racism can be very stressful and have a negative effect on overall health, mental health, and self-esteem. Therefore, people who have been exposed to racism increase their risk of experiencing mental health problems such as psychosis, depression and anxiety. For example, research by Bhugra et al (1996) and Kirkbride et al (2012) found that people from black communities are five times more likely to go on to develop psychosis compared to the white population. Kirkbride further found that South Asians and people from a mixed heritage living in England are twice as likely to develop psychosis. Clearly, the possibility of developing a mental health problem is disproportionately large in BAME communities and the disparities are contextually influential.
As previously mentioned, racism and discrimination are persistent factors that can lead to emotional distress within people from non-white backgrounds. When working with young children, they may not understand the meaning of racism and discrimination or even know what it means to be a racist and act discriminatory. Teaching young people these terms may be helpful as a learning experience, however, teachers should diligently minimize the chances of pupils acting racist or discriminatory towards each other. A useful classroom exercise would be to help young people acknowledge that they are more than their physical attributes. For example, work with the young people and have them reflect on their identity- what does it mean to be me? Having a sense of self-identity and social identity can assist young people to explore their unique and shared characteristics and in turn, realize that identity goes beyond race. Extending the exercise would be to have the young people think about how their identities could have an influence on their mental health and wellbeing. What aspects of their identity could make their mental health better or worse; make this a collaborative process between teacher and pupils. For instance, having a strong interest in playing football may promote positive mental health for the young person, however, they may be a girl and there’s only a boy’s football team in the school which could have a negative impact on their mental health. This activity could help young people acknowledge how their experiences are similar and/or different to each other.
As with all matters of wellbeing taking time to focus on areas such as emotional intelligence and social confidence helps to build an outlook that feeds into the interactions a teacher has with the young people they support. Whilst we are preparing ourselves to help others we must also look after ourselves, we’ve got some advice and guidance on this in the teacher wellbeing section.