Welcome Wellness - Multidimensional Effects of Discrimination on Wellness

To understand the state of “wellness” in a community it can sometimes be helpful to peel back the layers of the culture to see what factors might be contributing to members feeling “unwell,” however that is defined.

It is known that racism, discrimination, and perceived “otherness” affects health, both mentally and physically  on a cellular level.  As mental health professionals, we try to understand the multifactorial nature of our patients’ anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, etc. and how sources of “stress” in their lives might be perpetuating these symptoms.  

In some cases, these symptoms may be maintained by discrimination in one’s community. It may not be overt racism or sexism that is evident to others or even to the person themselves, but rather, it can be small insidious actions that are perpetuated in silence over time. Examples of these insidious actions can take many forms, e.g. racial microaggressions, or sexism in the workplace that take place every day.

The iceberg figure above is a metaphor to illustrate how sexual harassment can manifest. It shows that it’s possible that an individual may have never experienced overt assault, but may feel hostility or exclusion in their environment (e.g. repeatedly left off emails or invitations to meetings). All of these examples are part of the same iceberg, except that some actions are not as easily identified because they lurk beneath the surface.    

Learn more about how our own subtle actions (or inactions) or those of others might be affecting the overall wellbeing of our community -- Stay tuned for the Town Hall on Antiracism 101 brought to you by the department’s DEI committee in May 2021.

To learn about related events through U-M:

The Office for Health Equity and Inclusion Events

Additional reading:





View all of Dr. Conroy's articles on the Welcome Wellness homepage.