Overview of Systemic Oppression and Discrimination
Contrary to popular belief, feeling depressed, anxious, and struggling with other mental health issues is not “all in your head.” In fact, research consistently shows that our social environment and life experiences have a significant impact on mental health and that groups who suffer social disadvantage, discrimination, and oppression have higher rates of mental distress. What does it mean to suffer from discrimination and oppression? Generally speaking, systemic oppression and discrimination occurs when the laws of a society create unequal treatment of specific groups of people (i.e, racial, gender, ethnic, sexuality, physical ability, to name a few). It is the mistreatment of groups of people enforced by the institutions of society. Because it is “systemic,” it can often go unrecognized.
Here are a few examples:
- Children who experience poverty, abuse, and discrimination are much more likely to develop mental health conditions later in life.
- Black Americans are 20% more likely to suffer mental health conditions than the general population.
- Common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women are often a result of gender based violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, low income and income inequality, low or subordinate social status and rank and unremitting responsibility for the care of others.
- People raised in poorer neighborhoods (social disadvantage) have higher rates of mental illness and greater difficulties accessing mental healthcare services.
How Does Systemic Oppression and Discrimination Impact People?
When you experience systemic discrimination and social disadvantage, you are already starting from behind because of the way society is structured. This means you have less resources and greater challenges to overcome in daily life. Given this, it is easy to understand why you may experience higher rates of mental distress. Another issue that arises with systemic inequalities is that there is unequal access to mental healthcare services. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists the following reasons, for example, of why minorities may not be receiving proper care:
- A lack of availability of mental health services
- Transportation issues, difficulty finding childcare/taking time off work
- The belief that mental health treatment “doesn’t work”
- The high level of mental health stigma in minority populations
- A mental health system weighted heavily towards non-minority values and culture norms
- Racism, bias, and discrimination in treatment settings
- Language barriers and an insufficient number of providers who speak languages other than English
- A lack of adequate health insurance coverage (and even for people with insurance, high deductibles and copays make it difficult to afford)
How Teletherapy Can Help
CHE employs mental health professionals who specialize in cultural and systemic oppression. A trained provider can help you identify how oppression and discrimination influence your life and help you work toward solutions that reduce your feelings of powerlessness and help you identify active ways of advocating for yourself. The first step, which you have just taken, is knowing that a problem exists and understanding that, in the case of systemic oppression, it is not “all in your head.” We are here to help you navigate these difficulties and support you on your journey.