Admit it: racism is a mental health issue

    Young black men are six times more likely than their white
    contemporaries to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983 for
    compulsory treatment. This is despite international studies that
    show they are not genetically more susceptible to serious mental
    illness.

    People from ethnic minorities are also more likely to stay
    longer in psychiatric wards and more likely to be prescribed
    medication or electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) instead of
    psychological treatment.

    Unsurprisingly, because of what health minister Rosie Winterton
    calls “this circle of fear”, many are reluctant to come forward for
    help. Now, the government is committed to a five-year plan to halt
    racial discrimination in NHS mental health services.

    The promise comes as a result of the inquiry into the death of
    David “Rocky” Bennett, a 38-year-old Jamaica-born Rastafarian who
    died after being held face down for 28 minutes by at least four
    mental health nurses.
    The government has wrongly rejected the notion that the mental
    health services suffer from “institutional racism”. According to
    Winterton, this is because such an admission leads to paralysis in
    staff, “as if there is nothing they can do about it”.

    On the contrary, such an admission flags up the seriousness of
    the crisis while it also demands a root and branch overhaul since,
    so often, racism is unconscious, embedded in custom and
    practice.

    The government intends the first comprehensive ethnic monitoring
    of services, beginning with in-patients and developing into an
    annual survey of all users. Its effectiveness will depend on what
    is asked and by whom and in what circumstances. The government has
    also pledged to provide access to more psychological therapies. But
    how will it do this without a major injection of resources?

    Another major problem is that the monitoring begins only in
    April. What’s also required is a retrospective audit of the
    thousands of ethnic minority patients who have been “treated” and
    continue to suffer the consequences of possibly inappropriate drug
    regimes and the sometimes disastrous impact of ECT on already
    fragile lives.
    Admitting that racism is rife is a beginning – but in the world of
    business when a major shift in attitude and behaviour is required,
    thousands of pounds are spent in intensive support and
    re-education.

    Who’s betting that the miracle of transformation in the mental
    health services will be squeezed out of existing budgets?

     

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