A diagnosis of mental illness can feel like a one-way ticket out of
“normal” life. Getting a job, finding a home – endemic prejudice is
a powerful excluding force that confronts people wherever they
Mental health services themselves are deeply flawed, as the
Commission for Health Improvement shows this week, with a lack of
staff and resources hampering improvements. Too often they are the
destination on that one-way ticket, with the exit a revolving door,
and such freedom as is on offer fatally compromised by a lack of
Despite this, there are many who challenge the (usually) unspoken
assumption that they no longer have a right to be included,
struggling back against the tide of rejection and prejudice.
So this week’s announcement that the government’s social exclusion
unit is to examine employment, social participation and access to
services for people with mental health problems can only be
welcomed. If this project is led by those who have experience of
using mental health services, it will offer some hope.
But challenging institutional prejudice against people with mental
health problems is not enough. The social exclusion unit must also
examine the institutional racism in the mental health system that
combines with that prejudice to place people from ethnic minorities
with mental health problems in grave danger.
Despite the national standard which requires mental health services
to combat discrimination, the National Institute for Mental Health
in England reiterates this week what social care professionals have
known for years: if everyone struggles to receive the kind of
support and care they would choose, black people struggle more; and
if the system too often seeks to control those within it, and
impose treatment, it is all the more so for black people.
A specific examination of the experience of black and minority
ethnic people must be a major focus of the SEU’s work.