Black History Month focus: Mental health, homelessness and standard of living

Black History Month is not only a time to reflect on past culture, history, people and achievements but also offers a time to consider the state of black Britain now; the history in the making.

Much of black British history is the story of struggle, for acceptance and equality. Unfortunately, this remains the case. When it comes to matters of mental health, homelessness, standard of living, wages and more it is evident that in Britain today black people are still greatly disadvantaged and underprivileged compared to white Britons.

Mental Health

Thankfully the conversation about mental health in the black community is growing but there is still so much more to do to ensure that black British people understand mental health and realise that it is not something to be ashamed of or to remain silent about. Greater awareness will also allow for more questioning of inequalities and unexplained disproportionate figures surrounding the prevalence of mental illness in the black community and – crucially – how mentally ill black Britons are being treated following diagnosis.

Recently the exhibition Unmasked Women and BBC programme Being Black, Going Crazy? have helped highlight what can only be described as a crisis in black mental health in the UK. The latter presented some shocking figures which are worth revisiting to understand just how neglected the mental health of black British people has been up until the present:

  • Black British men are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious mental health condition than white men and six times more likely to be an inpatient in a mental health unit.

  • A Time to Change survey found that 93% of BME people said they had experienced discrimination in everyday life due to their mental health difficulties and 49% had faced discriminatory behaviour from mental health staff.

  • A third of people from BME groups report experiencing discrimination from within their own communities because of their mental ill health

These figures are reinforced by research conducted by the Lambeth Black Health and Wellbeing Commission in 2014 which found:

'Black Caribbean people make up 7% of the population registered with Lambeth GPs and yet account for 17% of people with serious mental illnesses. Other black groups are also over-represented amongst those with serious mental health conditions and the disproportionate numbers get higher the more severe the diagnosis and treatment setting. 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.'


Earlier this week it was reported that black Londoners are almost five times more likely to be homeless than the capital’s white inhabitants. A researcher from the Runnymede Trust, the organisation who published the findings, said: “These shocking homelessness figures show that beneath London’s multicultural image the capital is riddled with stark racial inequalities.”

This problem of disproportionate homelessness among black people in the city of course is not a separate issue to that of mental health among the community. According to homelessness charity Crisis, ‘mental ill health has always been closely correlated with homelessness being both a cause and consequence of the loss of accommodation for far too many.’

Air pollution and physical health

When Black Lives Matter UK held their protest at Luton airport and raised the matter of climate change in relation to racial equality some found it bizarre and scoffed at it however there is in fact evidence supporting the claim that black Londoners are disproportionately living in areas where there is higher air pollution.

An article recently published by the Guardian detailed the study findings:

'Black communities in London are disproportionately more likely to breathe illegal levels of air pollution than white and Asian ones, new research seen exclusively by the Guardian shows.

The study for the mayor of London shows black, African and Caribbean people account for 15.3% of all Londoners exposed to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels that breach EU limits, but they account for just 13.3% of the city’s population.'

Black Londoners then are not only more likely to experience mental illness than their white counterparts but also are more at risk of health problems related to air pollution.

These three brief examples (there are many other inequalities we could have included) clearly demonstrate that whilst we celebrate the achievements in the struggle for racial equality in Britain this month we must also recognise that the battle is not over. We must take the example of brave and determined past black British activists and apply their energy and sacrifice to ensuring that the issues and inequalities facing black Britons today are challenged and one day overcome.