Black History Month is here and I believe we all have a duty to take an individual responsibility to commemorate and celebrate this month. I believe celebrating black history throughout October is vital as it allows us to remember where we came from, the inventions and philosophies that were bestowed upon us and gives direction for the new generations. It’s a time where we can highlight ongoing issues within our community, a pivotal one being mental health. Mental health issues have become more prevalent within BAME communities especially with those who identify as LGBTQ+.
I am sure many BAME people can relate when I say we have a strong culture and many families have strong religious backgrounds. These factors can make it extremely difficult for individuals to come to terms with their sexuality let alone share it with their relatives. This, in turn, stunts self-growth and expression and can often lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm or suicide. Without support, individuals can feel trapped and isolated and turn to maladaptive ways of coping such as drugs and alcohol. Having worked in many different mental health environments I have seen numerous young black adults as inpatients on wards suffering from psychosis particularly drug-induced psychosis and depression. In a recent issue of Time Out and The Voice, statistics highlighted that BAME people were more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health issue compared to any of their other counterparts. In my experience, many of these people have poor family relationships and networks and I believe this to be a strong contributing factor to long-term mental health issues. If you throw issues about acceptance in regards to sexuality the number and severity of cases would probably double.
The Mental Health Foundation reported, people from black and minority ethnic groups are generally more likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems, be diagnosed and admitted to hospital, more likely to experience a poor outcome from treatment and more likely to disengage from mainstream mental health services, leading to social exclusion and a deterioration in their mental health. One reason for these differences may be that mainstream mental health services frequently fail to understand or provide services that are accessible to BAME communities and meet their particular cultural and personal needs. Alongside this, these differences are often explained by a number of factors.
Three recurring items are poverty, stigma and racism, where ‘institutional racism’ is noted within various publications to still be a major problem within the health service. Moreover, the financial squeeze affecting many public services is creating intense pressure in some parts of the mental health system. Mental health problems account for 23 per cent of the stress of disease in the United Kingdom, but spending on mental health services consumes only 11 per cent of the NHS budget.
My question is: If mental health services are not receiving the budget needed to provide adequate healthcare and BAME people are more likely to be hospitalised and detained compared to people of differing ethnicities how are we supposed to thrive as a people?
In relation to the topic of health care, the NHS has started a new initiative: Rainbow coloured lanyards. This is meant to encourage patients and others to approach those who are wearing these lanyards as it is meant to act as a signpost that they are comfortable and open to talk about LGBTQ+ related issues. I personally think this is a step in the right direction, however, I have encountered staff members who do not even know what the rainbow represents or the reason behind its production and introduction into services. I believe the culture embedded within staff members needs development and that means attending Equality & Diversity training as well as remembering to leave personal views at home. Despite this, I have witnessed occasions were patients have felt more open to disclose their sexuality and other related issues to staff members. I do still believe more work needs to be done to encourage BAME individuals to accept and feel comfortable, supported and validated not only within hospital settings but personal environments such as the family home.
The combination of these factors will help strengthen identity as well as resilience especially against mental health issues which stem from isolation and so forth. Highlighting BAME icons and leaders allows others to relate and find their own light within and develop their own voice. I also believe there needs to be more BAME representation within multidisciplinary teams which treat individuals from similar backgrounds as some professions (Occupational health therapists, Assistant psychologists, Qualified psychologists and Consultants) are majorly characterised by other ethnicities. By doing this we can empower others to realise their potential and feel more comfortable and trusting in opening up as well as break cultural norms within healthcare settings.
Healthcare practices must start adapting and develop ways of fully empowering BAME people. But most importantly the stigma around Mental health and LGBTQ+ identifying people within our culture needs to change and we must learn to be present and support each other as well as ourselves. This journey begins at home, our family, our roots gives us our foundation for character building and strength. Supporting and celebrating our past, present and future selves as BAME people this month but also every month is crucial as it helps us recognise, regain and amplify our strength as individuals no matter what environment we are placed in.