Mother and daughter having a serious talk on the sofa

A guide for parents Racism and mental health

If your child is treated differently or unfairly because of their race, skin colour or ethnicity, it can negatively affect their mental health. Here's some ways you can support them and places you can get help.

A mother and son holding hands on a bench looking at each other

Racism can happen anywhere. It can happen at school, at work or at home; it can happen online or in-person; it can even happen within families and relationships.

Sometimes racist abuse is obvious – for example, verbal abuse about the way someone looks, stereotypes about how someone might behave, or physical violence and bullying. Sometimes racism is part of the structures and systems that we live in. And sometimes it is ‘subtle’ and difficult for other people to notice.

Your child may also experience racism ‘indirectly’ - as the things going on around us, to people just like us, can feel like they have happened to us and make us feel personally attacked, helpless, or like our lives don’t matter.

The important thing for you and your child is how you see the situation and how it makes you feel – not what other people think or say about it.

We can spend a lot of time wondering whether we have been badly or unfairly treated because of our skin colour, race or ethnicity, or for some other reason, and it’s not always totally clear. This can make us feel confused or even foolish for talking about our experiences, especially if the people we are talking to have never had to ask themselves these sorts of questions.

Sometimes, even when we are convinced we have experienced racist treatment, people around us might try to tell us we’ve got it wrong. This can feel very lonely and isolating. But remember, you are not alone and your feelings are valid.

If your child is struggling with the impact of racism on their mental health or wellbeing, there are things you can do to help them – including providing emotional support, working on practical strategies together and finding the right professional help if they need it.

Racism, directly or indirectly, touches every person of colour and has an effect on our mental health.
Sian, 19

How can I help my child?

Talking to your child about racism can feel like a difficult conversation, and it may bring up feelings of confusion, anger, hopelessness or isolation for you or your child. If you are feeling unsure about the conversation, you can read our guide to find lots of tips on starting a conversation with your child.

Starting a conversation with your child

With younger children, use simple language and factual statements – you might want to talk with them about things like acceptance, fairness, respect and kindness for people who are similar and different to them. With older children, focus on providing a safe and confidential space so they can share their own experiences with you. Be led by them – listening and asking questions with curiosity rather than judgement.

Talking about things openly helps tackle the idea it is a taboo or tricky subject that is ‘too difficult’ to talk about. It can also help your child to feel more comfortable sharing their experiences and feelings with you as things come up for them.

Reflect on the types of questions your child is asking and the things they are concerned about. Share age-appropriate resources like books and movies together. Encourage them to speak freely about social justice and injustice, and to find ways in which they can help and feel empowered, such as joining a movement for change.

The things your child sees online can feel overwhelming and have a negative impact on their mental health.

For younger children

With younger children, choose age-appropriate resources like Cocoa Girl or CBBC’s Newsround to help them understand what’s happening in the world around them, and have conversations together so that they can share anything that’s worried or upset them.

For older children

With older children, encourage them to create a positive space on social media by unfollowing or blocking accounts and muting words that upset them, and help them to report any abusive behaviour. Your child might find it helpful to have a look at our tips for looking after their mental health on social media.

Social media and mental health

This can help them to feel empowered, reminding them that what they are experiencing is not okay and that no one should believe it is. You or your child can report any hate crime online via the True Vision website.

If you’re experiencing racism online, reporting it is perfectly reasonable and the right thing to do because racial discrimination is illegal.
Luke, 15

Look out for the times when your child might need more support, as well as times when they might be feeling overwhelmed and need some space – and try to be flexible in how you respond.

Young people tell us it helps to...

  • go on a social media detox - your mental health is important
  • take time for some self-care and do something for yourself - such as reading a book, playing a video game or watching some TV
  • do your research on your history and learn to love yourself and other people of your race
  • not put pressure on yourself – this is a problem you cannot solve on your own
  • talk to other people you trust
  • join a movement to create change
  • find supportive groups and communities who understand what you are going through
  • do physical exercise
  • learn mindfulness and yoga
  • 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
It is the world that’s wrong, not you. So embrace your identity and love what makes you, you.
Sian, 19

Signs that racism is affecting your child’s mental health

It is normal if your child’s experiences of racism – whether big or small, constant or one-off, direct or indirect – affect their self-esteem or make them feel angry, low or hopeless. When they’re going through this, validate just how difficult it is, reassure them they’re not alone and remind them that while it might feel difficult to believe, things can get better.

If your child is struggling with their mental health over a longer period of time, they may need some more support – from you and from professionals if needed. If experiences of racism are more seriously affecting your child’s mental health, they may:

  • have a continuously low mood, depression or low self-esteem
  • feel numb or empty inside
  • experience changes to their sleeping or eating habits
  • show changes to their mood and behaviour that feel out of the ordinary
  • feel worried or anxious a lot of the time
  • have a negative attitude towards their body image or ethnic identity relating to skin tone, hair texture, or the size and shape of facial and bodily features
  • experience flashbacks or intrusive thoughts about a traumatic incident

If your child is experiencing some of these things, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP. You can find our tips on finding professional help below.

There is currently a huge discrepancy in racial equality which is why I think it’s really important that we battle racism, so that everyone can live without fear or prejudice.
Luke, 15

Where can I find professional help?

There are different places where you can find help for your child. Your GP, your child's school and considering whether counselling or therapy might help are good places to start. 

Speaking to your GP is usually the first step to accessing mental health services. Your GP can provide information and advice, and discuss the options around treatment and support with you. They can also refer your child to local support services or for an assessment with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)

Remember that you can ask to see a GP who is a person of colour:

  • You and your child might find it easier to speak to someone from the same or a similar background to you - as this may help you to trust they will have empathy for what you're going through, and to feel less worried about being judged. It can also help you overcome any cultural or language barriers.
  • You have the right to see any GP in your surgery. So, if there is a GP who is from a similar background to you, you should be able to see them.
  • Whilst GP surgeries and other mental health services don’t have to provide a professional who is from a specific background, remember that it's always okay to ask. 

Counsellors and therapists can help your child to make sense of how they’re feeling and work with them to find ways of coping. You might want to look at the Black, African and Asian therapy network, which has a directory of specialist Black and minority ethnic (BME) professionals and services.

You can find out how to access counselling and therapy by reading our guide.

Counselling and therapy

If your child is struggling, it can help to be open with the school about what’s going on and what support your child needs. Depending on their age, it may be important to make sure your child feels some control over the information that’s shared about them – for example by discussing with them who they would feel comfortable for you to speak to.

Alongside counselling, schools can often provide support such as drop-in chat sessions, mentoring, peer buddying and clubs and activities.

You can find out more about speaking to GPs, finding a counsellor or therapist, accessing CAMHS, getting help from your child’s school and finding local services on our guide to getting help.

Getting help for your child

What can I do if I think a mental health professional is being racist?

Any mental health professional who you are interacting with has a duty of care to do their best to support you. If you are not happy with how a mental health professional is behaving towards you, you have a right to speak out.

How to raise a complaint:

  • Every NHS service provider (such as your GP or local hospital) has their own complaints procedure. You can find information on making a complaint on your service provider’s website, in waiting rooms, or by talking to a member of staff.
  • You can choose to complain to the NHS service provider directly, or to the commissioner of the services, which is the body that pays for the NHS services you use.
  • You can make a complaint verbally, in writing, or by email.
  • Once you have made a complaint, you should expect an acknowledgement and the offer of a discussion about the handling of your complaint within working days.
  • Visit the NHS webpage on making complaints for more guidance.

If you need help and support with making a complaint, you can contact your local NHS Complaints Advocacy service. This is a free and confidential service, independent from the NHS. Contact your local council to find out who the advocacy provider is in your area.

Tips for looking after yourself

  • Be kind to yourself

    If you have experienced racism, talking about race issues and racism can trigger painful emotions. It's a good idea to take some time for yourself to address and find support with any difficult feelings before talking to your child.

  • It’s okay to get emotional

    Parents have real emotions too. If this happens while you're talking to your child, be kind and patient with yourself. Explain why you are upset and reschedule your talk for an easier time.

  • It's not your responsibility to fix racism

    The people around you have a responsibility to make changes to their behaviour and to uphold the rights of people of colour.

  • Find supportive groups and communities

    It can be very hard to explain how you feel to a person that has not experienced racism, whether directly or indirectly. Online communities can be a way to find safe spaces and like-minded people who understand what you are going through.

  • Seek mental health support

    You can find help by speaking to your GP, seeing a counsellor or therapist or using the signposts listed at the end of this page to find supportive organisations.

Where to find further support

Useful helplines and websites

  • BAATN (The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network)

    A directory of accredited therapists and services with expertise in working with African, Caribbean and South Asian experiences.

  • Black Minds Matter

    Connects Black individuals and families with free professional mental health services across the UK.

    You can get in touch here.

  • Stop Hate UK

    Provides independent, confidential and accessible support for victims and witnesses of hate crimes or discrimination.

    Information on accessibility available here.

    Operates a specialist 24/7 support service for young people under the age of 18 called Call Hate Out.

    You can report any form of hate crime through their website here.

    Opening times:
  • Muslim Youth Helpline

    Provides faith and culturally sensitive support for young Muslims. 

    Online chat service available during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 10pm, 365 days a year
  • Boloh

    Supports Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic children (11+), young people and parents and carers who have been affected by Covid-19. You can call to talk through any worry or problem, including around issues such as bereavement, physical or mental health, financial issues or unemployment, or bullying and racism.

    You can speak to someone in English, Gujarati, Urdu, Bengali, French, Spanish, Arabic, Punjabi, Mirpuri, Pothwari, Hinko, Hindi and Sundhi. Interpreters are available for other languages.

    Webchat service available here during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    10am - 8pm, Monday - Friday; 10am - 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays
  • Refugee Council

    Provides mental health support to help refugees rebuild their lives using the resilience, strength and skills acquired on their journeys. Support includes 1-2-1 counselling, group counselling and case work.

    If you're looking for support in Scotland or Wales, go to the Scottish Refugee Council or the Welsh Refugee Council.

    Opening times:
    Monday - Friday
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
  • The Mix

    Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.

    Email support available via their online contact form.

    Free 1-2-1 webchat service available.

    Free short-term counselling service available.

    Opening times:
    3pm - 12am, seven days a week