Self harm in Black and Asian communities

Individuals from Black and Asian communities, experience higher rates of self harm relating to their ethnicity for specific reasons. For men and women born in the UK or immigrants there are a range of factors which contribute to self injury, such as cultural conflicts, language barriers, limited access to help, socio-economic factors and even racism are just some of the roots to self harming amongst Black and Asian communities.

Although broad reasons for self harm can be attributed to Black and Asian communities, research shows specific causes for self harm amongst Black and Asian groups individually. Within the South Asian population for example, and in particular the female population, are known to have higher self harming and suicide rates compared to their white counterparts. A study carried out in Manchester emergency services over a 4 year period showed a 1.5 times more risk within the South Asian 16-24 year age group. Statistically the Asian population has higher rates of suicide and self harm compared to the white population which ultimately begs the question why? The issues lay mainly with culture and the negative effects it can have on individuals. Arranged marriages and forced marriages can lead to marital problems and possible domestic abuse as well as disputes with in laws. Immediate family can also apply pressure in terms of performing well in school, finding appropriate employment and general behaviour. These cultural and socio-economic pressures can eventually lead to self harm in order to cope with the expectations and stress of family disputes. Young people are of no exception as adolescents born in the UK may wish to integrate into British culture yet still be expected to conform to the culture of the previous generation. Restrictions on behaviour and life choices can lead to isolation and negative feelings for young people and possible self injury in order to cope. Ideas such as honour, shame and a sense of community spirit are taken more seriously within the Asian population and can have serious negative implications if people go against the grain.

 Additionally, there are communication barriers with the health department which are disadvantageous to individuals. Not knowing the English language and failing to communicate their needs to GPs can delay the recovery process. Additional obstacles include reluctance to tell a GP their concerns for fear that they will relay the information back to the family due to a community grapevine of sorts. These issues can lead to feelings of isolation and fear of nowhere to turn for help for self harm.

In terms of the Black community a recent study was carried out in three cities (Oxford, Derby and Manchester) and showed that young Black women are more likely to self harm than any other race. The rate displayed cases of 10.3 per 1,000 compared to 6.6 per 1,000 for the white population. The research further suggests that is due to Black population experiencing more social problems than their white counterparts, including unemployment, racism or housing problems. It also highlighted that larger members of the Black population are more likely to be students leading to academic pressure and possible self harm. Interestingly, the rates for white men and black men in the three cities study showed similar rates of self harm, with rates lower for older black men compared to their white counterparts. The Black community are also reported to be disillusioned with the healthcare system making them less likely to seek treatment or wait until the last minute to seek treatment. On seeking the treatment, research shows that they are less likely to be referred to ‘talking therapies’ which has been shown to have a positive effect on assisting individual’s recovery.

Overall, an individual’s ethnicity and culture can play a huge part in their health and well being. Socio-economic and political problems can act as catalysts for self injury in regards to racism, employment and financial issues. Identity confusion such as alienation from one’s culture and family expectations can lead to the desire to rebel or belong, lending oneself susceptible to self harm.

In order to reach out to Black and Asian communities, organisations and help lines need to be made available for individuals. There is a need to be ‘culturally sensitive’ in offering self harm help as practitioners must be aware of the cultural and social issues affecting differing members of the community, in order to properly help people who self harm. By mending the communication block and providing confidential and easy to reach assistance, we can heighten self harm awareness in the Black and Asian community and persuade people to step forward for self harm help.

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