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Racism causes tears and taxes

By Todd Harper - posted Tuesday, 25 September 2007

An 11-year-old boy, Steve, is at the footy with his dad. The boy was born in Australia. His father was born in Greece. They are both proud Aussies.

Carlton champion footballer Anthony Koutoufides is playing against St Kilda in what will turn out to be his last game ever. As “Kouta” drops a mark, a St Kilda fan roars: “Go back to your souvlaki shop.” The boy turns to his father with a scared and confused look on his face. His dad says “don’t worry son, he’s just an idiot”.

A young woman, Selma, is on her way to university. She is startled and jumps as a yobbo driving past yells out “go home you terrorist slut”. Born in Australia of Turkish background, she shrugs her shoulders but she is angry and irritated.


Later, the same day, as she arrives at St Vincent’s Hospital for her emergency medicine class, a security guard suspiciously checks her bag. Her heart feels like lead and she fights back the tears.

Children across the country shed tears every day dealing with stress, anxiety and depression related to discrimination-based bullying. Evidence shows that discrimination can result in social and economic problems, including unemployment, leaving school early and poor education results.

The Business Council of Australia in 2005 said these problems are associated with direct costs on the Australian economy and compromise economic growth.

For the thousands of young people whose mental health and wellbeing is affected it means more than dollars.

There is a strong relationship between exposure to discrimination and problems of mental health and wellbeing, particularly depression. This is true in many countries and cultures. Discrimination cuts across all cultures.

There is also strong evidence that discrimination is related to physical and mental health problems among Australia’s Indigenous peoples.


Dr Yin Paradies of Melbourne University’s Centre for Health and Society has examined no less than 138 studies, which focus on the relationship between discrimination and health, around the world. VicHealth has reviewed another 15, making a total of 153 studies until 2006. And this year yet more studies keeping churning out the evidence.

A majority of these studies show a well-established negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of those on the receiving end of discrimination. Many of those affected deal with depression and anxiety.

In the next 15 years, depression and anxiety will be the top cause of ill health among women and the third biggest cause in men.

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First published in the Herald Sun on September 17, 2007.

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About the Author

Todd Harper began as Chief Executive Officer VicHealth, in April 2007, following many years in tobacco control. Prior to taking on his current role, Todd was Quit Victoria’s Executive Director from 1999 to 2007.

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