Colouring the Mind: Racism and Mental Health – The Concept

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‘Colouring the Mind: Racism and Mental Health’ is a new In Conversation mini-series that will explore how racism affects mental health, with a particular focus on racism in the mental health system and racism in the mental health concept.

In this episode, Malaika Okundi and Jessica O’Logbon focus on the concept of racism in mental health and discuss definitions of race, racism, and mental health as concepts.

Discussion points include:

  • The definition of ‘race’.
  • Racism, colourism, and the impact on mental health.
  • Lived experience of the different levels of racism (internalised, interpersonal, institutional, and systemic).
  • What defines mental health and what the link is between racism and mental health.
  • The importance of lived experience researchers.
  • Why representation matters in studies and in roles of influence.

Please note that what Malaika and Jess share in this series is derived from their work, as well as from research and literature surrounding these topics. Whilst they are not experts on racism or mental health, personal experience does play a role in their discussions.

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Malaika Okundi

Malaika Okundi is an early career researcher working on the Transmission of experiences of Racism, Anxiety and Depression (TRADE) project, the Catalogue of Mental Health Measures and the Landscaping International Longitudinal Datasets (LILD) project. She recently completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Global Health and Social Medicine – Neuroscience at King’s College London. Malaika’s research interests are varied and include interspecies approaches to medicine, biotechnology and its effects on society, data science, longitudinal datasets and the mental health of minority groups. She is enjoying gaining research experience as she decides which of her many ideas to focus on for a PhD.

Jessica O'Logbon

Jessica O’Logbon is a final year medical student at King’s College London who recently undertook a Master’s in Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge as an intercalated year. Jessica is passionate about raising awareness of health inequalities and methods to tackle them, which is how she became particularly interested in mental health. She was a founding member of the Black & Minority Ethnics in Psychology and Psychiatry (BiPP) Network and ran events to discuss men’s mental health, barriers to service use in BME communities and the effect of racism on mental health – the complex relationship between intersectionality and mental health is often overlooked.


[00:00:04.400] Malaika Okundi: Hello, welcome to the Colouring the Mind, Racism and Mental Health Podcast series for the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, or ACAMH for short. This is a new three-part, mini, In Conversation series that will explore how racism affects mental health, with a particular focus on racism in the mental health system and racism in the mental health concept.

I’m Malaika Okundi, a Research Assistant at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. I work on a bunch of research projects, including the Catalogue of Mental Health Measures, which deals with capacity building for mental health Researchers, landscaping international longitudinal datasets, which looks at the worldwide longitudinal dataset landscape, and the TRADE project, which studies the transmission of racism, anxiety and depression in families intergenerationally. These topics are of interest to me because I am a black woman living in London, so racism and mental health are near and dear to my heart.

[00:01:04.680] Jessica O’Logbon: And I’m Jessica O’Logbon, a final year medical student at King’s College, London. I’ve always been quite interested in health inequalities, in the medical field especially, and my two keen interests are child and adolescent mental health and women’s health. I’ve worked with the BME in Psychiatry and Psychology Network, to prioritise and advance the representation of BME backgrounds within psychiatry and psychology, because it has a great effect on patients from those backgrounds, and definitely needs more diversity, and worked in partnership with institutions, universities and run events focusing on topics such as racial trauma and mental health, and the barriers that BME people, for example, BAME men, experience when seeking help for their mental health.

I’ve also been invited to 10 Downing Street with some other medical students from BME backgrounds as well, to discuss how we can increase the number of BME students attending UK medical schools, increase the number of BME Doctors and help us all address current health inequalities and advocate for people who look like us.

[00:02:00.200] Malaika Okundi: In this episode, we will focus on the concept of racism and mental Health and we’ll talk about some definitions of race, racism and mental health as concepts. Before we get started, we do have a little disclaimer. Jess and I are not experts on racism or mental health, and all of what we will share with you is derived from our work, research, and literature surrounding these topics. Of course, as two black women, personal experience will play a role as well.

[00:02:26.960] Jessica O’Logbon: If you’re a fan of our In Conversation series, please also subscribe on your preferred streaming platform, and let us know how we did, with a rating or review, to share with friends and colleagues. So, the first question of our episode, what is the definition of race, Malaika?

[00:02:43.544] Malaika Okundi: Race is an interesting concept in that it is simple, yet also complex. In essence, race is a social construct, which means that it’s a thing that people created amongst each other. It’s undetectable on a genetic level, so it’s not based on your DNA or concrete biology, in a sense. Really, it is grouping people based on physical characteristics. What they look like, for example, what shape of your nose, what colour of your hair, your skin tone, how much melanin you have. It’s a social interpretation of what people look like, and grouping people based on like features.

For example, the different races that perhaps we’re familiar with, black people, white people, black people tend to have darker skin tones, darker hair, tighter curl textures and curl patterns, so on and so forth. And white people, somewhat the opposite, lighter skin tones, less curly hair, perhaps less able to tan in the sun, less melanin, and so on and so forth.

[00:03:44.060] Jessica O’Logbon: And you mentioned that race was a social construct, how do you think race plays a role in how we interact, how we navigate our lives, and then how that impacts our mental health? Because we are both women of colour, sometimes you think about your race more, other times you just go about, like, you don’t really think about it too much. And I think, especially when we are younger, we don’t realise all of the associations with our skin colour. There’s almost an awakening, as the years go on, to that. How do you think that impacts mental health and our interactions with others?

[00:04:17.400] Malaika Okundi: I think race is the kind of thing that only becomes apparent when it’s different. So, when I grew up, I spent the majority of my childhood in Kenya, being surrounded by people of the same “race” – the listeners can’t see me, but I’m quoting “race.” It wasn’t a big thing for me, because everybody looked like me. The differences that were highlighted to me were things like height, was I taller than my peers? Was I faster than my peers at running? Was I smarter than my peers in exams? Race I feel like becomes really apparent when you have different races, or different racial groups in the same place.

So, moving to the UK, it became apparent to me that, okay, I’m black, and there are white people, there are Asian people, and so on and so forth, because you’re then able to compare, I’m able to see that my skin tone is darker than certain groups of people, I’m able to see that my hair is curlier. And the way it plays with your perception of yourself is that it only comes up in comparison, so there is always almost a winner and a loser. It’s not a thing that comes up when there’s sameness, you don’t really think about it when there’s sameness.

So, it’s only when there’s difference that I think, I’m this, and they’re that, so one of those two things, as humans like to do, when we have two different things, we like to place a value judgement. We like to say, “This is better and this is worse,” which is effectively what race does. We saw different groups of people as humans, and we decided that this was better, this was desirable, and this was not, this is smart, this is not, and so on and so forth. And so I think the way race plays into our society is it forces us, on a very visible level that you can’t run away from, to compare each other to these ideals of, what is a black person? What is a white person? What is an Asian person? And so on and so forth.

So, you’re always comparing yourself to what is normal for your group, but then also what is desirable for your group, what is desirable in general, and so it plays on your mental health in that it doesn’t allow you to simply be you. You’re always you in reference to something, you in comparison to something, you in – grouped with something. I’m not simply Malaika, I’m Malaika, the black woman, which is a title I didn’t really ascribe to before I lived in a more racially diverse society.

[00:06:28.840] Jessica O’Logbon: That’s so interesting, because I had, like, the opposite experience. I grew up in a very white neighbourhood in the UK. I obviously now am based in London, which is a lot more multicultural, but where that was pretty much all-white students, apart from me and my siblings, what you said about comparison and almost having a spotlight on you as how different you were.

And it’s interesting, because I think the way children react to that is almost a representation of what they’re seeing at home. Some children would be, understandably, quite inquisitive and ask me questions. Other children would call me names, so you could see where these ideas of black people, our brownness and colour was coming from.

And I think the impact that has on your mental health as a child is that, you know, you’re told, “Don’t listen to the names,” “Get by.” But, exactly what you were saying, you start to change; you start to wish you were something else; you start to adapt to become something else. Because physically, you can’t change your race, but you can fit the mould of everyone else around you, is the way they wear their hair, the games that they play, the way they sound, as much as possible, to take away the fact that the physical you can’t change.

That’s why racial trauma and mental health are so important, because you’re almost dissociating from who you are, about having to wear this skin that you can’t change and, like, inside have been taught to hate, can be such conflict in your mind. And it’s no wonder that there are high rates of mental health disorders in people who’ve experienced racial trauma, coming to countries where they are different, and they have experienced racism because of that.

[00:08:09.344] Malaika Okundi: And it’s the tragedy of it all really, in that as humans, we love boxes, we love to group ourselves into things. And race is one of the biggest, most inescapable ways that we’ve done that to each other. And even as a black woman being comfortable in my “blackness,” even within that box, there are mini-boxes, and there are things I have to do to fit into the ideal of what it means to be black and not white, and so on and so forth. And we compare each other within races, across races, and then there’s always the experience of being mixed race, or passing for one race when you are another.

And there are so many nuances of the experience that one word, “black,” “white,” “Asian,” doesn’t capture, and yet we use that to describe billions of people. How can a billion people be described by a single word? And yet, we do so so easily on forms, we do so in our heads, we do so when we talk about people. It’s so ubiquitous and yet it’s such a weak term. It really doesn’t describe the wealth and diversity of even within a race what the experience can be.

[00:09:15.600] Jessica O’Logbon: Exactly, and I really resonate with that, and we’re going to be speaking about racism and colourism soon, because I’m of mixed Nigerian and English heritage, and in a all-white neighbourhood I was black. In London, there are now shades of black. There are attitudes or personality traits or unsaid things that are associated with being mixed, and they’re darker, and they’re lighter, and then the type of hair you’re allowed to wear at work. Obviously, I’m training to be a medical professional, and I like to wear my hair natural, that’s actually more acceptable than another style of hair. And, I think, when I moved to London and started to see how black almost opened up into all these different layers, you’re stratified yet again, I just realised how none of us are having the same experience, we’re almost seen as a monolith.

[00:10:03.200] Malaika Okundi: Yeah, I agree, and I think – and I say this, from my own perspective, knowing that I can’t experience all perspectives, but I think the suffering for each shade is so different. Even within black people, the lighter you are, the darker you are, how long, short, kinky, curly your hair is, the stereotypes, the adjectives used to describe you, what’s allowed and not allowed, is so diverse. What I go through as a darker skin, ‘cause there are women who are darker skinned than me, so I would describe myself as dark skinned, but there are people who would describe me as of lighter skin. And even that experience, because it’s all once again comparison, we’re always comparing to the next, to which – either extreme, and we’re all trying to find ourselves on this, sort of, spectrum, and yet again, we’re divided into one or two things, lighter skin and dark skin, or curly hair or straight hair, and so on and so forth, and it – like you said, it’s not a monolith, but we treat it like it is.

And it’s almost sad how the nuances of our experiences are lost in the conversations and in the media and in so much of what we know about being black, it’s so – I feel like I don’t really even have quite the right word to describe it, but it’s – it makes me sad for black people that we don’t have the language to quite describe the diversity of our experiences.

[00:11:30.740] Jessica O’Logbon: It is, it is very sad, I know. And just thinking about, again, this idea that we are almost taught to hate ourselves. Obviously, it is country-dependent, like you said.

[00:11:44.664] Malaika Okundi: Yeah.

[00:11:44.664] Jessica O’Logbon: But the media has an agenda, we need to understand that a lot of what we’re consuming, whether you go to an institution that is teaching you about black history, but it’s coming out of maybe a white person’s mouth with their own agenda, or their own set curriculum, who’s that curriculum being set by?

[00:12:02.464] Malaika Okundi: Yeah.

[00:12:02.464] Jessica O’Logbon: What we need to understand, as well, is racism that, almost like self-hate and hate towards other people because of their skin colour, can come from people who do look like you.

[00:12:12.784] Malaika Okundi: Absolutely.

[00:12:12.784] Jessica O’Logbon: And it – that’s why racism is such a complex concept, because, overall, it’s based on the idea that some races are superior to others. But it permeates society on so many levels, and it could be internalised, so it’s about your beliefs and feelings about race within you, as an individual. It can be interpersonal, it could be race-based beliefs and feelings that manifest as words or actions between people. Institutional racism is when these race-based beliefs become policies and practices in institutions and organisations. And then, lastly, systemic is when these beliefs create inequalities that are maintained by the society as a whole, most often without us realising it, hence, unconscious bias and things like that.

[00:12:56.440] Malaika Okundi: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:12:59.976] Jessica O’Logbon: But what I wanted to ask you is, have you been affected by any of these levels of racism, maybe even all of them? And what do you think we could do to perhaps change some of these/how did they make you feel?

[00:13:11.840] Malaika Okundi: Hmmm, that’s a great question. I think I’ve been personally affected by all these levels of racism. I definitely have predetermined beliefs of what a black woman is supposed to be, what she’s supposed to act like. But also, stereotypes that I want to subvert, things I don’t want to be, what the image, the media presented image, of the angry black woman, that I don’t want to be, and that I work hard to not be in my professional and personal life. I think on an interpersonal level, I’ve definitely experienced racism. I’ve heard the common slurs, I’ve been followed around in majority white places by a Security Guard, or so on and so forth. People assume things about what they thought I would sound like.

I think, also, being from Africa, growing up in Kenya, there was another layer of assumption, that I must be quite backward and that, you know, because I come from Africa, I must not know certain things or be exposed to certain things. In terms of internalised racism and interpersonal racism, the biggest effect they had was on my confidence. I walked into spaces and, especially being a Researcher, you’re going to conferences, you’re in meetings, you’re participating in writing papers and doing research, and I think in the beginning of my academic experience, like in my undergrad, feeling like I was fighting an inferiority complex. Being one of very few black people in the room, we’re in a lecture theatre with hundreds of people and there are four of us, three of us, two of us, or maybe it’s just me.

And we are of course talking about malaria in Kenya, and poverty in Ghana, and all sorts of other things in different other African countries. Feeling on the spot, feeling exposed, feeling like I need to defend myself, even though it wasn’t necessarily directed at me. Nobody called my name necessarily, but I felt attacked in some of those instances. Feeling like I have to do better, I have to be better, I have to show people that I’m more than just my skin colour. And that’s not something I had much experience with when I was living in a black majority society. So, it was so interesting that once I was so aware of the visible difference when I walk into a room, that you can’t miss me if I’m the only black person in the room, I suddenly felt a desire, a push, a requirement, to act in certain ways in certain spaces.

And then, also, on an institutional level, it was obvious to me in academia that I was one of few. There aren’t many black people in the spaces that I work and research in. Even the kind of research I do, on racism, well, one of the kinds of research I do, it’s dominated, again, not by people of colour. And so, it’s interesting being in a space where I have lived experience of racism, I have lived experience, or like my undergraduate degree was in global health and social medicine, I have lived experience of the kind of countries we study. I lived in Kenya. I lived in those health systems, and around malaria and other sorts of “tropical,” diseases.

And so, having that lived experience, yet having the expert on those topics being somebody without lived experience, was a very confusing place to be. Because I had to learn how to write and discuss and argue, not from a point of what I knew, but from a point what was in the text, and what was in the literature, and what was in the research. And I’m only now learning, as a Researcher, now that I’ve graduated and I’m able to participate in research projects, how to bring in my lived experience in a way that is impactful and effective. Whereas, a lot of my academic career was learning how to not use my lived experience, how to focus on papers and literature. And not that papers don’t have lived experience, but a lot of it was ignoring my actual feelings on a topic, focusing on the facts, numbers, and so on and so forth.

[00:17:06.420] Jessica O’Logbon: That’s so interesting as well, because I think a lot of the listeners who are early career Researchers, or even – might even be late career Researchers, would be interested in how you actually do show that lived experience, or those feelings you have towards a topic, in your research, in a academic way, let’s say.

[00:17:18.600] Malaika Okundi: I’m still at the beginning of my research career. I’m definitely an early career Researcher. I don’t even have a PhD yet, so very, very early. But something that I’m learning, and something that the people who I work with have been really great at facilitating, is allowing myself to be in spaces about topics that are important to me and that are important to my experience. So, racism, longitudinal data in Africa, specifically East Africa, because that’s where I’m from, interacting and liaising with people from those countries, bringing in my lived knowledge of living in Kenya, but also backing that up with research.

So, it’s almost like when you know something is true, but then being able to cite a paper to back that up, if that makes sense. Looking at the literature, finding the gaps, and using the gaps as my own research topics, but, also, discussing with other people, and learning that also other people’s lived experience may be different from mine and is just as valid.

I think sometimes that what also happens with racism is that, often with black people, you become, kind of, like, a figurehead for your whole race when you’re in a space. It’s almost like, when I’m the black woman in the room, I’m representing all black people, and I need to be the best representation of black people that there is, the best representation of Kenyan people that there is, the best representation of Kenyan women that there is. And freeing myself from that expectation has allowed me to make mistakes in my research, to ask questions, to also leave space for other people, in a way that I think – not that I didn’t want to, but that I wasn’t able to, because I felt so much pressure.

And it’s only when you somewhat self-actualise and somewhat able to be comfortable in your position, that I’m Malaika, and I won’t say “just Maliaka,” because I don’t think anybody’s just anything. I am a weird and wonderful mixture of all my experiences and the places I’ve lived and what I’ve studied and where I’ve been. But I am that, and I don’t have to be representative of every Kenyan on the planet. Neither do I have to be representative of every black woman on the planet, and if my experiences are different, I can talk about that. And if my experiences are not different, I can talk about that as well. If my experiences are positive, negative, and anything on the spectrum in between, the biggest thing I’ve learned about harnessing my lived experience in research is bringing up the questions.

[00:19:40.800] Jessica O’Logbon: That was amazing, so many points I drew from that. I think it’s really amazing to see the growth, and this is a thing about pursuing research, I think you grow in confidence a lot. I always recommend to students from any background, if you can get involved in some research where you get to contribute to a piece of work, whether it gets published or not, you get an idea of what it takes to do a research project, and actually inject some of your experience into it.

For my Master’s, I was also the only black person on the team, was a national survey of young people and mental health, and I actually thought that my race was helpful in picking out maybe the limitations of that survey. There wasn’t a huge take-up from black, young families, why was that? Was the language in the survey applicable to them? It needed information such as whether they were a single parent household, and their household income, and things like that, they probably were wondering, you know, where’s this data going to go? Is it going to affect my immigration status? You know, just some of these ins and outs that you get from being on the ground.

And it made up a great, if I do say so myself, a great portion on limitations of my thesis, which I was able to defend in a viva, and things like that. And brought up a lot of discussions, you know, the survey wasn’t even translated to other languages. And obviously there’s time constraints, there’s economic constraints on these things, but just some of the limitations we need to keep in mind when we’re, again, digesting research, taking part in research, and that is really valuable if you’re anybody of colour thinking about getting into the research space. Yes, you may be the only one, but I really do recommend you try.

And two other things you brought up, which is going to go into our next bit, about mental health, self-esteem, the pressure of your whole community on your shoulders. So, if you’re the only people on this Zoom call, in this conference, in this meeting, and you’ve got a seat at the table, then you’ve got to make sure that, number one, you’re on your best behaviour, you’re always overprepared, you never overpromise or underdeliver. And you’ve also got to be aware that, oh, I need to bring the ladder down and bring people up. I’ve got to make sure that I’m sending the ladder down to other people who may not get these opportunities because of, I don’t know, systemic or institutional racism preventing them from getting that, or financial constraints or whatever it is.

And two of the biggest factors, that I’ve found, and I have found in all the research that I’ve done and read, is self-esteem, feeling burdened, feeling pressured, feeling stressed and overwhelmed, they’re the two things that contribute to mental health. And people who experience racism are not only taking that hit of self-esteem, it’s very psychologically distressing, and then they’ve got to navigate life being the representation of their community, and feeling like you can’t put a foot wrong, walking on eggshells, constantly being in a state of stress is going to lead you to have mental health conditions. And I don’t think we need to go into the stats, sort of, you know, black men and psychosis, and the amount of black university students that are dealing with depression and anxiety…

[00:22:33.520] Malaika Okundi: Yeah.

[00:22:35.733] Jessica O’Logbon: …are not accessing services, are not getting involved in these surveys, so they’re being unreported. And racism is a mental health issue, because it causes trauma and trauma leads to lack of self-worth, exhaustion, anger, anxiety, sadness, and it can be hard to navigate that. And I wonder what you think – I wouldn’t say what you think can be done, but what you think the link is between racism and mental health, and how to actually break the cycle a little bit, as well?

[00:23:04.584] Malaika Okundi: Ooh, yeah, difficult question. Well, if we go back to, like, what defines mental health, like, according to the World Health Organization, “mental health is a state of mental wellbeing, that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well, work well, and contribute to their community.” And, like we’ve just mentioned, when you are the only black person in a room, when you’re in racialised spaces, you are stressed, you are coping with extreme amounts of pressure, to be a representative of people you know and don’t know and may never know, because how can one person represent billions of people, really?

And then it affects your ability to learn. You’ve just mentioned, you know, black university students and mental health difficulties. Like, the stats are there. I think, in reality, if my mental health is my ability to “live well, learn well, work well, and contribute to the community,” then anything that affects that is a mental health issue. And it’s been proven that racism affects your self-esteem. I mean, you and I are examples of that, but in the wider literature, it’s right there.

It affects your interpersonal relationships. We talked briefly about the levels of racism, on an interpersonal level, on an institutional level, on a systemic level, and on an internalised level. When you internalise the idea that you are lesser, you are then less able to learn, you are then less able to live well, you are then less able to work, and you are always overcoming your inferiority. You are always overcoming the idea that you are less, and so you are having to work harder to achieve the same results.

And it’s so interesting, in one of the research projects that I participated in, the TRADE project, we spoke to people about this. We spoke to parents and teenagers about how racism, on a personal level, so things you experience yourself, but also on a vicarious level, racism that you’ve seen other people experience, perhaps it’s your mother, perhaps it’s your father, you’ve seen them have racism targeted at them.

[00:25:01.440] Jessica O’Logbon: I mean, George Floyd as well.

[00:25:06.424] Malaika Okundi: Yeah, absolutely, on a global level, things – events like George Floyd, events like when there’s Police brutality against young, black men all over the world. There are so many things that affect your perception of self, your perception of your community, your perception of your ability. I mean, when you are experiencing racism, even your thoughts about yourself, my idea that I could be a Researcher, was affected by the idea that, I’m a black person, I have not seen many black Researchers, I had no black Professors. So, I had to convince myself that it was possible, rather than being secure in that knowledge, because I’d seen somebody do it before me. I had to imagine what it was like to have a black Professor, rather than to have one, like many of my white peers.

And those differences affected my ability to talk comfortably with my Professors about any difficulties and problems I’m having, to feel justified in taking a mental health day, because, of course, I need to not step a foot wrong, because it feels like at any moment I could be kicked out of this privilege that I have, and that feeling of, it’s not deserved, it’s a privilege. And I think education is a human right, I think everybody should have access, and in the world we live in, of course, there’s things like fees, and so on and so forth, but to be in a place of learning and to feel less deserving than your peers affects your ability to do well.

I would challenge anybody to be in a space where they feel singled out and like they don’t belong. And I know that there are obviously stories where people overcome that and do great things, but we always call it “overcoming,” because it’s an obstacle. And I think the obstacle needs to be acknowledged, in a really tangible way, to give people the freedom to express what they need to overcome those obstacles.

One of the problems we have with racism as a mental health problem, is that in many spaces and places it’s not acknowledged as a real obstacle, because it’s this intangible thing based on a social construct that we can’t really quantify with DNA and biology, and so on and so forth, these sort of tangible concrete sciences, people are easy to dismiss it. And that’s really unfortunate, because it’s a very concrete part of my experience. I can point to you moments in my CV where I look at that and it says something great, but I think, wow, I was in tears, I was really lonely, it was really hard, because the colour of my skin and the way people perceived me meant I felt I had ten times more pressure.

And I think to the part of your question that says, “How can we overcome it?” I think the real first step is to do more research about it. I think a lot of research has been done in the United States of America on the experience of black people in America, African-Americans. Not a lot of research has been done in the UK, where we’re based, because there’s always been this perception that racism is more polite here. I would disagree, I think it is just as pervasive, I think it is just as pernicious and painful.

But we need to acknowledge it, we need to research it, it needs to be a priority. We need to fund research into it. We need to fund Researchers of colour to research it. I think it’s really important to have, and we were talking about lived experience earlier, I think it’s really important to have people with lived experience embedded in the research pipeline.

I think a person who has experience of racism needs to be involved from the beginning to the end on research about racism. Because only really – and I won’t say only, I think any Researcher worth their salt can research most things. But I think when you have lived experience, and when you bring in a lived experience expert, it provides a level of context and a level of cultural competence that you can’t get if you do not have people with lived experience involved. And so, I think the real answer to your question that I have is lived experience.

[00:28:50.120] Jessica O’Logbon: You have made so many amazing points. I mean, firstly, the funding, so to do my Master’s, I had to get a scholarship, so I’ll start there. I think one of the biggest barriers to black students getting into research, postgraduate degrees and what have you, is finances. I just want to also highlight a study, it was a review actually, by Stoll et al, and I think Nkasi, she has been involved with the BiPP Network, and I’m sure ACAMH as well, but she did a review on black university students experiences, their mental health and mental wellbeing, and it was amazing when I read through it.

I mean, racism was literally one of the reasons university students said they were struggling so much. Culture shock, alienated, you’re lacking support, your parents may not have gone to university, you travelled this alone. And I think everyone, especially black women, people of colour, experiences imposter syndrome. But I started to reframe it as trespasser syndrome, so you know you deserve to be there, and you have done all of the requirements to be there, sometimes you’ve even done more than is required, okay, you’ve overcompensated.

And you are not an imposter, and you’re not feeling like an imposter, what you’re feeling is there’s an environment that hasn’t really been designed. Ut’s never had you there before, so you’re trespassing on something that feels like it wasn’t meant for you, and is going to feel very strange when you get there and start shaking tables, maybe providing a different point of view, causing good chaos. I’ve started to reframe it as “trespasser syndrome” and it’s helped me a lot in terms of, like, what I can bring to research, and what I can bring to policy change, the kind of really unique viewpoints you can bring to your work, and you can encourage others to start thinking about.

Something you say might be the reason why a survey is done in a different language, why if they do this work again, there’s certain things they’re not going not do and they are going to do. And I think everything you’ve said about the funding and the research boils down to that, getting people with lived experience into circles that are doing research, and research that is affecting policy, I think we need to be at…

[00:31:02.907] Malaika Okundi: Yes.

[00:31:02.907] Jessica O’Logbon: …tables where policy is being decided. You mentioned about lived experience in the realm of research, but also having representation in spaces you haven’t been in before. And a big inspiration of mine was the recent nomination of Dr. Shubulade Smith, as the first black President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

[00:31:21.040] Malaika Okundi: Yes.

[00:31:22.540] Jessica O’Logbon: She’s incredible, and one of the first things she’s done is create a scholarship for black students wanting to pursue psychiatry as a profession. So if you’re a black medical student interested in that, I really recommend keeping an eye on the RCPsych pages. But it just goes to show that sometimes we can bring unique viewpoints, and really use the barriers that we experience, break down them for those coming after us.

[00:31:44.480] Malaika Okundi: That’s fantastic. That’s a really great example of what representation can do, because I imagine for you, having somebody like her in that position is aspirational. And I think one thing that racism has robbed a lot of people of, and not just black people, is aspirational figures in places we want to be. Because traditionally, we haven’t been allowed to be in certain places and spaces, we are now having to forge path that for other people are well tarmacked roads. Whereas we are really having to cut our way through the grass to try and get there.

And that experience of not having somebody ahead of you, somebody whose footsteps you can walk in, somebody who’s defined the path, is difficult, because that first person always has a hard time, it’s never easy. And I don’t think it was easy for anyone of any race to be the first of anything. In 2023, it should be something that’s common for every kid to be represented in every profession, so that they can dream freely, and they have something to aspire to.

[00:32:50.400] Jessica O’Logbon: As I said, I’ve worked with the BiPP Network, and we run events to help students break into these fields, psychiatry and psychology, and it’s not just finances, it’s how do I do psychiatry and psychology in a European way? Some things that black people present with are not as abnormal as it may be in a very Westernised society.

[00:33:09.280] Malaika Okundi: I agree, and if our norms are always based on non-black people, then black people always seem abnormal.

[00:33:19.780] Jessica O’Logbon: Exactly.

[00:33:19.780] Malaika Okundi: And I love what you said about the “trespasser syndrome,” that’s – you’ve really just – that’s been a paradigm shift for me. Because it really is the feeling of being unwelcome and unwanted in this space. It’s not that I’m unqualified, it’s not that I don’t deserve to be here, or that I haven’t worked hard, it’s that there is an overwhelming feeling that I’m not supposed to. That there’s some sort of silent alarm going off, and I’m going to be hauled off to prison at any moment, because I’m not supposed to be here, and this is wrong. And wow, no, that is a great term, and it’s so descriptive of what it actually feels like, “trespasser syndrome,” I’m going to keep that.

[00:33:56.960] Jessica O’Logbon: Ever since I started thinking about that I honestly owned who I was in these spaces, also understood when maybe my self-doubt or my self-criticism’s coming in. It’s just because nobody’s left a mark here before, we have nothing to do go off, and we’re just going through unchartered territory. But what the beauty of it is, is that there will be people who come after us, who, you know, I know it’s that pressure of being this great black person, saying, “We want more black people ‘cause they did such a great job,” but someone’s been there before, and hopefully it’ll be a little beacon to other people coming into the environment and that environment will change over time.

[00:34:33.400] Malaika Okundi: You know, it’s so interesting, because the comfort that comes from having someone go before you is so great, but such a under-talked about phenomenon. Just seeing somebody who looks like you in a place that you want to be, allows you to imagine yourself there. It allows you to visualise what it is like to be there, but it also allows you to see that it’s possible, just the possibility.

I think that’s all we have time for in this episode. So, I just want to thank all of our listeners for joining Jess and I as we explored the concept of racism in mental health. Do please subscribe to our series of podcasts entitled “Colouring the Mind, Racism and Mental Health.” And look out for other episodes, including, “Exploring Racism in the Mental Health System,” and “Examining the Effects of Racism in Mental Health.”

For more details on myself, Malaika Okundi, and on Jess O’Logbon, please visit the ACAMH website,, and Twitter @acamh. ACAMH is spelt A-C-A-M-H, and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred streaming platform, let us know if you enjoy the podcast, with a rating or review, and do share with your friends and colleagues.


This is quite enlightening. Thank you so much.

Really interesting discussion. Thankyou

This was a very interesting podcast,it opens your eyes on society of today and helps you visualise it from actual life experiences you’ve had instead of predictions.

I so relate to hear you allowed me to feel it is not just me.
I have felt alone for so long

Excellent. Could really relate to the narrative.
Look forward to seeing the transcript.

This was easy to follow and made me think and reflect. I can relate to the term ‘Trespasser syndrome’ Thank you…

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