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Life events, ethnicity and perceptions of discrimination in patients with severe mental illness.

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  • 1Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Denmark Hill, London, UK.



Whilst it is commonly believed that black and ethnic minority (B&EM) people living in the UK experience social disadvantage compared with the white British (WB) population, no study has specifically addressed this issue in patients with severe mental illness. We sought to test the hypothesis that B&EM patients experience more negative life events than their WB counterparts, and to examine the extent to which they attribute these events to discrimination.


Thirty-four WB, 78 African Caribbean (AC) and 35 other ethnic minority patients with psychotic illnesses, defined using Research Diagnostic Criteria, were asked to complete a Racial Life Event Questionnaire examining life events and perceptions of discrimination at baseline and 12 and 24 months later.


African Caribbean patients experienced more 'Financial' life events across the study period, otherwise there were no significant differences between patient groups in number of life events experienced. The B&EM group collectively (n = 113), however, were significantly more likely than the WB group (n = 34) to attribute 'Assault', and 'Legal' life events to discrimination. The AC patient group were significantly more likely than the other two ethnic groups to attribute the 'Financial' and 'Health' life events they experienced to discrimination. The B&EM group was also significantly more likely, and particularly the AC patient group, to report that members of their own ethnic group are adversely affected by discrimination. Further analyses showed skin colour rather than ethnicity or nationality to be the major contributing factor to perception of discrimination; thus, the Irish (n = 11) had similar scores to the WB while Africans (n = 16) scored like the ACs.


Our study shows that B&EM patients do not experience significantly more life events than WB patients; however, their perception of these events is clearly different, and significantly more often attributed to racism. It is reasonable to suppose that patients may be disinclined to utilise services they believe to be prejudiced against them on the basis of their skin colour, and service providers need to be aware of this in order to create health care services that B&EM patients feel confident to use.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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