Racial discrimination and mental health

Racial discrimination is hugely damaging to mental health. Over half (56 per cent) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who experience discrimination report feelings of psychological distress, which is a risk factor for anxiety and depression.1

Almost one third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience high or very high levels of psychological distress – nearly three times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians.

Racial discrimination has a compounding effect on mental health. In a recent Victorian study by The Lowitja Institute, an overwhelming majority (97 per cent) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people surveyed experienced racism multiple times.2 As incidences of racism rise, the risk of psychological distress also increases. Two thirds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents exposed to 12 or more incidents of racism in the previous year reported high or very high levels of psychological distress. This study also showed that subtle forms of racial discrimination such as ‘being left out or avoided’ were just as harmful to mental health as more overt forms.

By restricting people's participation in public life and their access to health and housing services, racial discrimination directly contributes to inequality in health and wellbeing outcomes.

1. For a full list of references for the statistics on this page, and any others across the website, please visit the references page and search through the relevant category.