Racial experiences and racism have been argued to the major contributing factor of deteriorating mental health of the black population (Pierce, 1970). In multicultural communities where non-white minority groups are integrated into the larger white population within the society, the incidences of racial experiences and racism by the white population are intense.
The case of the United Kingdom where the black population are severely assimilated and integrated will form the basis of this paper. The paper will therefore take into consideration the role played by racial practises in the United Kingdom to influence the high cases of schizophrenia predominant with the African-Caribbean population in United Kingdom.
Schizophrenia is a severe illness resulting into burden to the society and sufferers. Of all the mental illnesses, schizophrenia has been the major chronically disabling and affects a small percentage of any population.
However, there is up to eighteen-fold inclination rate of cases of schizophrenia diagnosed in the United Kingdom among the African-Caribbean population as compared to the white population (Hickling, 2005). Moreover, the incidences of schizophrenia among the African-Caribbean population in the United Kingdom have been found to be higher than any country in the world (Cochrane & Sashidharan, 1996).
The subject of schizophrenia and its prevalence rate among the African-Caribbean population has attracted the interest of many scholars in Britain since early 1960s.
However, much of this research has been disputed as a result of the researches preoccupation with trying to explain this issue in terms of biological factors (Sashidharan, 2001). Biological factors have been found to be insufficient in explaining the upsurge of schizophrenia among the black minority population in the United Kingdom. Indeed, this has lead to the realization and recognition of sociological factors regarding the dynamics of schizophrenia across ethnic groups.
As demonstrated by Boydell et al. (2001), the incidences of schizophrenia in African-Caribbean minorities was found to be higher when their study was conducted with a smaller fraction of the London’s local population.
This evidently indicated that the social environmental factors have a great impact on the increased incidences of schizophrenia diagnosis. Additionally, a study conducted by Mallett et al. (2002) also found out that the incidences of schizophrenia among the non-white population in London were substantially higher than the same study conducted in Trinidad and Barbados.
This further reinforces the role played by social environmental factors in the African-Caribbean prevalence rate of schizophrenia. In a similar account, Whitley et al. (2006) in their study concluded that incidences of mental illnesses were higher among the non-white minority groups when the study was conducted in regions where they constituted a smaller percentage of the local population.
The research studies mentioned above have show the determination to consider societal factors and the roles they play in influencing ethnic schizophrenia. However, these studies have failed to sufficiently discuss how racial experiences are contributing to the elevation of the rates of schizophrenia diagnosis.
In particular, Mallet et al (2002) study acknowledged the contribution of social factors in the prevalence rate of schizophrenia among the African-Caribbean population in the United Kingdom, but did not mention African-Caribbean population as racial minorities. While this research recognized the influence of social disadvantage as a possible cause of schizophrenia, its main focus was unemployment and early childhood parent separation (Mallet et al., 2002).
In regard to this topic therefore, it is important to consider African-Caribbeans as minorities. The evidences in regard to incidences of schizophrenia among the black population in the United Kingdom have gradually shifted to favour social factors such as alienation and racism that have been subjected to the black population and further to misdiagnosis conducted by psychiatrists of the British origin (Hickling, 2005).
An individual’s racial status is an inherent cause of stress as observed by Hammack (2003). On the other hand, Bhugra and Ayonrinde (2001) suggested that racism is a possible cause of chronic stress which may well act as a catalyst to psychiatric disorders. Moreover, the field of psychiatry has a close relationship with racism and therefore racial bias in diagnosis conducted by psychiatrists can further precipitate the occurrence of schizophrenia among the African-Caribbean population (Timimi, 2005).
In analysing the elevation of schizophrenia among the African-Caribbean population in the United Kingdom, it is imperative therefore to consider racial experiences such as racial stress as a result of the minority status, racial bias in medical diagnosis and stress induced by racism.
Racial minority status stress
Racial minority status refers to stress experienced by minorities as a result of their obvious minority within the society regarding social isolation and intensity of their vulnerability. The African-Caribbean population in the United Kingdom accounts for less than two percent of the countries population. Furthermore, the settlement pattern of the black population is such that social networking among them becomes limited and difficult.
Therefore, the African-Caribbeans are faced with risk of being the only black in employment, in institutions of learning, and in their neighbourhoods. This consequently means that African-Caribbeans become easily susceptible as racial minorities because the psychological advantage accompanied with numbers is limited. Research conducted to determine the relationship between cases of mental illnesses and ethnic density has produced results which reinforces this hypothesis.
In particular, in 1979 a research was conducted in the United States to discover the connection between the rate of hospitalization as a result of psychiatric illnesses and ethnic density among the white, Puerto Rican and black populations across health institutions in New York.
This research established a relationship that the lower the numbers of an ethnic group, the greater is its hospitalization rate as a result of psychiatric illnesses (Rabkin, 1979).
A similar study conducted in the United Kingdom to establish the relationship between cases of schizophrenia and ethnic density regarding the non-white minority ethnic communities across several London’s electoral wards revealed that the smaller the percentage of black ethnic minority residing in a particular environ, the greater their chances of suffering schizophrenia.
This research demonstrated that among the electoral wards where the population of the black ethnic minorities constituted the largest percentage of the local population, the occurrence rate ratio of schizophrenia was 2.38 representing 95 percent confidence of 1.49 to 3.79 intervals.
On the contrary, electoral wards where African-Caribbean minorities constituted a small percentage of the local population, the occurrence rate of schizophrenia was found to be 4.4 representing a confidence interval of 2.49 to 7.75 as shown in table1.
This study concluded that members of small minority ethnic groups become vulnerable to racial discrimination when residing in small minority groups within the community and are therefore more susceptible to stress.
Consequently, the more a member of a minority ethnic group is isolated, the less the protection they can get from their social network and therefore guarding them from the effects caused by stress associated with the minority status becomes difficult (Boydell et al., 2001).