On Friday evening an event titled ‘Improving black health and wellbeing’ was held at Lambeth Town Hall as part of World Mental Health Day 2014.
The event was a collaboration between Time To Change - England's biggest programme to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination – and the Lambeth Black Health and Wellbeing Commission, who launched their report on how to improve both the prevention and treatment of mental illness, specifically within black communities.
A number of notable guest speakers appeared at the event to lend their support to the worthwhile programme. There were also some very moving speeches from ‘Health Champions’ who either suffered from mental health problems themselves or knew someone who did.
A 22-year-old girl spoke about the negative experience her and her family had undergone due to ignorance and discrimination regarding mental illness within their community. She told of how she herself had suffered even though she was not the one with the mental illness, referring to how it had made her a less desirable marriage partner in the eyes of others since she may carry ‘bad genes.’
Another, remarkably brave, woman stood up and delivered an unprepared speech on her personal struggle with bipolar disorder – explaining how her stigmatisation and isolation as a result of her bipolar was at times more difficult to cope with than the illness itself. She told the audience how she had left her native Bermuda because of the discrimination and taboos surrounding mental illness on the islands, meaning that not even her own family would visit her when she was institutionalised for fear of being seen, gossiped about and judged my other members of their community. She spoke of her utter relief at finding Time for Change and meeting like-minded people who understand her.
The statistics related to mental health conditions in Lambeth clearly expose that up until now not enough has been done to help black people in the borough, and nationwide, who are suffering from mental health problems. Black British people are significantly over-represented among those with serious mental health conditions:
Black Caribbean people constitute only 7% of the population registered with Lambeth GPs and yet account for 17% of people with serious mental illnesses.
Whilst 26% of people in Lambeth identify as Black African or Caribbean, 50% of Lambeth residents in high secure and 67% in low and medium secure psychiatric detention are from these groups.
Nationally black men are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious mental health illness than their white counterparts.
The Black Health Wellbeing Commission (BHWC) offered some reasons for these disproportionate figures in a piece of literature given out titled “Lambeth Black Health and Wellbeing Commission: From Surviving to Thriving.” “People from the black community are disproportionately exposed to factors, like poverty, that increase their likelihood of developing a mental illness,” the Commission’s co-chairs write in the introduction.
The Commission’s report contained a number of recommendations of changes that should be implanted to improve mental health among black Britons. Among these recommendations were:
‘Community leaders in places like churches, mosques, community centres, barbers and hairdressers should be offered training in ‘mental health awareness training’; recognising mental ill health; providing basic counselling, training in mental wellbeing and sign-posting people to professional help.’
‘More needs to be done to recruit, train and employ Black Caribbean clinical staff to support our diverse community. […] To support the development of a professional clinical workforce that is reflective of the demographic population of Lambeth, Trusts should work more with schools to give our young people an understanding and experience of career opportunities within the health sector and create avenues into employment for them.’
‘More needs to be done to educate Lambeth residents about mental health in order to improve understanding and reduce stigma. […] Stalls showcasing this Commission’s recommendations or providing mental health education could also be provided at events like Brixton Splash and the Lambeth Country Show. Ongoing work to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination within services and our communities must be promoted.’
Lambeth’s recently formed Health and Wellbeing Board’s decision to establish the BHWC and produce this report was partly motivated by the coroner’s report into the 2008 death of Sean Rigg, a 40-year-old black British musician and music producer who died while in police custody at Brixton police station. Rigg, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, had been arrested after he attacked passers-by and officers in London.
The inquest jury involved in the case found that police used inappropriate and excessive force on Rigg, ignoring his basic rights, when they pinned down for eight minutes in a V position, after which he collapsed. The jury concluded in its findings that the Metropolitan police’s series of errors when dealing with Rigg “more than minimally” contributed to his premature death.
The death of Sean Rigg ignited justice campaigners to demand an overhaul of how the police and other services treat suspected sufferers of mental illnesses. The BHWC’s report includes several recommendations as to how the Metropolitan police can be better trained to avoid such a tragic incident from happening again:
‘Metropolitan police officers should be trained with Black African and Caribbean mental health service users, whom are local residents, so that they relate to people with mental health conditions and respond appropriately to situation involving these people. This should include training on de-escalation techniques.’
A copy of the full commission’s report is available at:
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