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Ethnicity and Mental Health: are the complex relationships best explained as a syndemic?

Ethnicity and Mental Health: are the complex relationships best explained as a syndemic?

Principal Investigator: Professor Kamaldeep Bhui
Approved Research ID: 57601
Approval date: March 26th 2020

Lay summary

Our project (estimated duration: 3 years) seeks to understand the causes and consequences of clustered disadvantage (or 'syndemics') in the UK. We will first explore whether disadvantages may be represented by a combination of demographic, psychosocial stress and related lifestyle factors within individuals and groups. Then we will explore whether this combination (or 'clustering') of disadvantages may result in indicators (biomarkers) of inflammation and later clinical outcomes (mental or physical illness).


Previous research has investigated associations between ethnic or racial discrimination and health outcomes, but do not necessarily consider the mediating role of biomarkers of inflammation. While other research has explored the associations between racism and biomarkers, but do not connect this to health outcomes. Also, this field of research has mainly been undertaken in the USA. It is therefore uncertain if the findings associated with UK data (Biobank) would be comparable.


The potential to detect associations between demographic variables, psychosocial factors, inflammation and health outcomes would stress the importance of wider population-based interventions in the UK. Such interventions, that could take a life-course approach to intervene early, could reduce the foundations from which later illnesses may present. These interventions could also save a substantial amount of resources and costs within the National Health Service (NHS). In addition, lessons could be learnt and transferred to tackling inequalities in other national contexts.