Experts say focus needed on addressing not denying discrimination in mental health services

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Date: Thursday 11 July 2013

Experts and professionals across the UK's African Caribbean communities have called for a renewed focus on addressing the discrimination and over use of coercion faced by black patients over represented in mental health hospitals in the face of a study led by Swaran Singh refuting the existence discrimination within in the system

The study was published in the journal Psychological Medicine the day after ACCI and BMH UK's national conference on policing, mental Health and black Briton, where minister of state for health Norman Lamb MP acknowledged the inequality in the treatment and care of black patients. He told delegates at the conference 'contrary to the view that there has been little inclination to address racism within mental health services, I also know that very many psychiatrists are not complacent. Indeed an impressive body of high-quality research confirms this.'

Assertions made by Swaran Singh in a research paper entitled. 'Ethnicity as a predictor of detention under the Mental Health Act",' claim that a patient's ethnicity by itself did not affect the chances of being detained. He claims detention is associated with serious mental illness, the presence of risk and levels of social support. However experts point out that this study is fundamentally flawed as the sampling frame that this study referrers to is not the one researchers used to come to their conclusions. Also marked variations in clinical practices thresholds that also determines ethnic difference in detention rates have not been accounted for in this study.

Professionals and activist across the community have warned against the dangers of attempting to ignore the discrimination faced by black people who come in contact with mental health services. They say refuting its existence will not assist in the work needed to address this inequality and improving mental health services for some of society's most marginalised groups.

Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said: 'There is an extensive body of evidence to show that there are issues with psychiatry and the impact it has had on black British communities for a number of decades now. We have seen many inquires that have come to the exact opposite conclusion asserted in Swaran Singh's research, you just have to go onto any inpatient ward across the capital to see just that.'

Alicia Spence services director at ACCI (African Caribbean Community Initiative) said 'For that statement to be made that there is no basis for the differential experience and treatment that black people receive flies in the face of an extensive body of data that is out there at a local and national level. If this inequality is not acknowledged and addressed it will continue to destroy lives. We have just had a conference which is about a targeted approach – this was it was the first conference of its type and senior government officials acknowledged that there is an over representation of black people in the most secure parts of psychiatric services. It is not something that we are happy with because it is our communities that are dying in these systems – they need to understand it on this level,' Spence added.

Rev Paul Grey of God and mental health campaigner said: 'People are actually suffering in situations that need to change. No one puts their hands up to say they want to be in a mental health system – the focus really should be about how we get better outcome for those who are in these services by changing these systems so we can improve things for people who are vulnerable who don't have a voice. Where there is a disproportunality there should be the commitment to address it, the focus need to be about be about recovery and people moving on with their lives.'

Lee Jasper former chair of the African Caribbean Mental Health Commission said 'I saw the findings within the Count Me in Census and was on the steering group that brought it in, Professor Singh's work in this area is counterpoised to the wealth of data that shows that there is discrimination in mental health provision. What this research does is reinforce a degree of complacency which allows racism to continue to thrive within these services. It is a dangerous as it will reinforce unequal treatment of those both within his care and mental health services more generally. '

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Notes to the editor

- Black Mental Health UK is a human rights campaigns group established to address the over representation of African Caribbean's within secure psychiatric care and raise awareness to address the stigma associated with mental health.

- Detention rates for people from the UK's African Caribbean community have doubled over the past five years during the period of 2005 – 2010.

- Almost half the deaths of people in police custody are mental health service users.

- Deaths of those detained under the Mental Health Act account for 62% of all deaths in state custody

- A disproportionate number of deaths following contact with the police since 2004 are of black people.

- People from the UK's African Caribbean communities are over represented among those who lose their lives while in police custody or when detained under the Mental Health Act.

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