I have spent the last few weeks reading my way through a lot of reports and inquiries ranging from official inquiries commissioned by the UK government to reports conducted by civil society groups or university or private research firms. There is a clear image that emerges from these reports which have circulated widely in news reports since late March: The BAME community is suffering disproportionately from the impact of COVID-19. While early framing of the virus (read: Michael Gove on March 27th) has stated that ‘the virus does not discriminate’, it has since become crystal clear that the exact opposite is the case. People of BAME communities were not only more likely to contract the virus but also had a lower likelihood of recovery once they fell ill. The reports I read mostly focus on pre-existing inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic when trying to explain this disparity. Generally speaking, it is the case that BAME groups are more likely to have poorer socioeconomic circumstances which in turn lead to poorer health outcomes. Some more progressive reports additionally stated the impact of historic and current racism faced by ethnic minorities in the UK. So it turns out that rather than being ‘the great leveller’ COVID-19 seems to be a great accelerator.
I know that I am probably not telling you anything new here… As stated above news reports pointing to the disparity between BAME and White British communities have been circulating since the beginning of the national lockdown in the spring of 2020. The only thing that has changed since then is that the tendencies reported in these articles have cemented into cold hard facts that have been cross-examined and repeated by several entities.
So what did surface while reading through these reports? While still in the early stages there is a growing amount of literature pointing towards a mental health epidemic especially among BAME youth in the UK. The pandemic in general and the national lockdown specifically has had a tremendous impact on the mental health of young people. Here again, COVID-19 will exacerbate pre-existing inequalities. Before the current pandemic, people from BAME communities were already more likely to suffer from mental health issues. What has happened now is that because ethnic minority communities in the UK have been hit harder by the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown this pre-existing mental health disparity has increased even more. One editorial from August this year, calling for more specific research on the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of BAME communities, described this development as a ‘double blow’.
Research conducted by Simetrica Jacobs and the London School of Economics and Political Science shows this disparity clearly. While almost everyone who took part in their survey reported a decrease in quality of life and general wellbeing, this increase for BAME people meant that the average is now just above the threshold for the diagnosis of psychiatric morbidity. Scores that surpass this threshold are generally accepted to entail a physical and psychological deterioration due to the ongoing mental distress.
These findings are corroborated by data from Kooth, the leading mental health support platform for children and young people in the UK. Demand for their services from BAME youth has shown greater increases than from their white peers since the pandemic has hit the UK. Their report is again pointing to the already mentioned ‘double blow’ that people from BAME communities are dealing with. Although they go one step further and state that it is not only the direct impact of infections and death within one’s immediate surroundings but the general knowledge of said the disproportionate impact that has additionally affected the mental health of BAME youth. It is logical that hearing and reading on a regular basis that one’s community and therefore oneself is at a higher risk of contracting and also dying from a virus results in additional increases in stress and anxiety. Accordingly, Kooth reports that increases in depression, anxiety, as well as thoughts of self-harm and suicide among BAME youth are more severe than among White British youth.
To me, it is clear that this is the task at hand for the future. We essentially have to prepare for a mental health epidemic after the current pandemic. Guidance and mentorship for BAME youth have become all the more necessary due to these developments.