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