Competition between the political parties in the run up to any general election is always fraught with attempts at proving their track record is better than any other, but in the eight years of Black Mental Health UK's (BMH UK) existence, one would never have thought that the treatment and care of black people who are detained by mental health services, would be viewed by some who are scrabbling for power, as just another political football.
But the surprising headline in the Guardian asserting that Home Secretary 'Theresa May needs to hear what is like to be black and mentally ill in Britain[i]' makes it clear that it is now open season, even on issues affecting our communities most vulnerable and marginalised, in the run up to the May 2015 general election.
It has taken eight years of dogged commitment and relentless effort by our organisation, often in the face of attempts to sideline or highjack our work, to get the issues that we have been campaigning for, on the political agenda.
As the only human rights campaigns group, that exists in this country that advocates for people from Briton's black communities who are subject to detention under the Mental Health Act, there is no political party that has not been approached, or leaders that we have not spoken to, about the issues BMH UK view to be of critical concern for this group.
Rhetoric of headlines a world away from the reality
And while this work goes on in the run up to the general election it is important for our communities not note that rhetoric of some of the headlines are world away from the reality.
Now that there has been a sea-change on the way the issue of mental health and black Briton is perceived it is critically important to set the record straight.
The historic parliamentary debate on black deaths in custody tabled by Charles Walker MP back in 2013[ii] [iii], marked a breakthrough in the work BMH UK has been doing and led to BMH UK accepting an invitation to meet Home Secretary Theresa May MP on this an many other issues that we have been campaigning on.
During that meeting early in May 2014, the Home Secretary heard from a delegation from BMH UK[iv], about the concerns that mattered most to our organisation and those we have been set up to serve. After this meeting she also took a step that no other minister of state has taken, and committed to holding a joint summit with Black Mental Health UK on these issues to begin the work of seeing them get addressed.
Home Office and Black Mental Health UK joint summit
The joint Home Office and Black Mental Health UK summit on policing and mental health[v], held in Westminster last October, marked the first time the most senior professionals from both policing and mental health sector along with leaders who serve those from the community living with a diagnosis of mental illness as well as those who use these services came together at a national event of this kind.
The workshops looked at the issues including: restraint; deaths in custody and alternative places of safety, and were co-facilitated by experts from the community. This has shown not only a commitment by the Home Secretary to address concerns relating to mental health and black Briton, but have also marked a huge culture shift in how her officials at the Home Office have had to work on these issues.
Last week's high level round table meeting jointly hosted by Black Mental Health UK and the Home Secretary, was to ensure much of what was discussed at the summit last October, is progressed before the May election.
Home Secretary has put black Brition's mental health concerns on political agenda
Considering that many of the core concerns that BMH UK has raised both through our campaign work and in last week's Guardian article come under the remit of the Department of Health (DH) rather than the Home Office, BMH UK are keen for the community to know that Home Secretary Theresa May has not only listened to the concerns of black Briton when it comes to mental health, but has gone well beyond the call of duty
The issues of ending police presence on locked inpatient wards, ending the use of Taser on inpatient wards, ending the use of prone restraint in hospitals, ending the blanket ban of mobile phone in inpatient wards, and ending psychiatric asbo's more commonly known as Community Treatment Orders as well as ensuring the engagement of black led community agencies in the implementation of BMH UK and Cancer Black Care's report on cancer screening of those living with a diagnosis, all urgently need to become a reality. to get our issues on the political agenda.
A meeting with minister of state for care and support Norman Lamb MP and BMH UK is planned for later this month to discuss crisis care as well as many of the issues that have been outlined. Indeed, of all heath minister's that have been in place since BMH UK has been in existence, Minister Lamb MP, has also proven to be one of the most supportive of our work.
The hope is that the sterling example set by Theresa May MP, in her commitment to see an improvement in the treatment of black Briton's who use mental health services, will be taken up by the leaders across all political parties, in the run up to this year's election and beyond into policy commitments of the next Government.
By Matilda MacAttram, founder and director Black Mental Health UK, and fellow of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
Copyright © 2016 Matilda MacAttram All rights reserved.
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This article first appeared in The Voice Newspaper on 2 March 2015