Racism makes people sick

December 2, 2009

A November 18 report by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) titled Building on Our Strengths confirmed that the experience of racism has serious health implications for Indigenous and migrant communities in Australia.

The report compiled the findings of hundreds of studies that show a direct link between racism, ill health and social disruption.

About 47% of people from non-English speaking backgrounds reported they have directly suffered from racist attitudes in society. Only 7% of Indigenous people said they had never experience racial discrimination.

According to Dr Yin Paradies, key author of the VicHealth report, racism can lead to stress-related illnesses, such as depression, heart disease and drug and alcohol abuse.

The report said one study showed racial discrimination accounted for 30% of depression among some Indigenous groups, while 65% of Indigenous participants in another study said that racism impacted negatively on their health.

Forty percent of Indigenous participants in a Western Australian study reported strong emotional and physical responses to racial discrimination.

About 80% of Muslim women who took part in a focus group conducted by the Islamic Women's Welfare Council of Victoria said they felt unsafe and unwelcome in Australia because of personal experiences of racism.

"Discriminatory attitudes can lead to very serious consequences", Paradies said on November 18. "As we have seen over the past year, a number of people from diverse cultural backgrounds have ended up in hospital after receiving injuries from direct physical attacks, "

Building on Our Strengths exposes the impact of racist discrimination on health, but the report also revealed worrisome statistics on the frequency of racist attitudes.

The report said 69% of Victorians surveyed agreed that "accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger", but almost 10% said "not all races are equal" and 36% of respondents said Muslims, Asians and people from the Middle East do not fit into Australian society.

The release of the VicHealth report coincided with the publication of a national study on racism by the Foundation for Young Australians. It found that 80% of secondary school students from non-Anglo migrant backgrounds experienced racism at school.

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