Black Mental Health

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2016 National Black Members' Conference
1 January 2016
Carried as Amended

Composite B


Conference, the theme of mental health crops up a lot at these conferences and with good reason. The Mental Health Foundation which is the leading mental health research organisation in the UK states that black people from the UK are:

More likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems

More likely to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital

More likely to experience a poor outcome from treatment

More likely to disengage from mainstream mental health services, leading to social exclusion and a deterioration in their mental health.

The World Health Organisation defines Mental Health to be a state of well being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community. Mental ill health covers a multitude of situations from the grief and everyday worries we all experience to bleak suicidal depression. Mental ill health is common; in fact so common that according to the charity Mind, one in four of us will suffer a mental ill health episode every year. That is one in 4 of us reading this is, or has or will suffer a mental ill health episode this year – it is not something that happens to other people, we are all susceptible.

The Mental Health Foundation goes on to say that racism and poverty are the likely causes for the inequality. They also say that if English is not your first language you are more likely to be over-diagnosed. Conference, there is another side to the story and that is one of stigma about mental health. This same research also said that mental health problems go unreported and untreated because people in some black communities are reluctant to engage with mainstream health services. African Caribbean people living in the UK have lower rates of common mental disorders than other groups but are more likely to be diagnosed with severe mental illness – this is at the stage where people are sectioned or brought in by the police. African Caribbean people are also more likely to enter the mental health services via the courts or the police, rather than the GP, which is the main route to treatment for most people. They are also more likely to be treated under a section of the Mental Health Act, are more likely to receive medication, rather than be offered talking treatments such as psychotherapy, and are over-represented in high and medium secure units and prisons. The research says this may be because they are reluctant to engage with services, and so are much more ill when they do.

For Black people, the statistics get much worse; according to the Mental Health Foundation, Black people are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems, admitted to hospital with a mental ill health condition and are more likely to experience a poor outcome from treatment. After suffering such health inequalities they are more likely to disengage from services, leading to social exclusion and a further deterioration of mental health. It is a widely reported fact that the population of Black people on a psychiatric unit is three times higher than the proportion of Black people in the population. If you are a Black man, you are 17 times more likely than a white man to be diagnosed with a psychotic illness.

Within Asian communities there are high incidences of suicide among young women who find it difficult to engage with the mental health services.

Conference, what is clear from all this research and probably what we already know is that black people engage with mental health services often when it is too late and the issue has become severe or critical. We are therefore fighting a battle on two fronts, improving mental health services and tackling stigma.

Conference notes that we either accept that Black people are simply more prone to ill mental health or we accept that the current services for Black people are not fit for purpose. A panel of experts on the Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health said it is the latter.

Conference notes that there are two sides to every story and the health inequalities that exist for Black people are only one side of the mental ill health story. The other side of the story has to be about how Black people view mental ill health. There needs to be education and awareness in our communities on what mental ill health is, its markers and its treatment. We need to dispel the myths around mental health disorders and help to remove the stigma attached to being mentally unwell. We as Black people need to understand that you can fully recover from a mental illness, there are many options available for treatment, tablets and hospitals alone are no longer the only options available. We cannot allow ourselves and our family members to become so ill that the only time we access services is in a crisis via the Police or under a section. Not speaking about feeling unwell or unhappy will not make it go away.

The issue of Black people and mental ill health has been to conference many times before, however things do not appear to be improving; the situation cannot be allowed to continue deteriorating at its current rate.

Conference therefore calls upon the NBMC to:

1. Work with charities such as Time to Change and reaffirm our commitment to Black Mental Health UK, to publicise the stigma surrounding mental health in a bid to eradicate the myths and the impact on Black communities;

2. Work with the National Women’s Committee to create awareness of a specific leaflet in the women’s health pack highlighting common mental health disorders affecting Black women;

3. Work internally with Learning And Organising Services to better publicise stress at work courses to Black members;

4. Ensure the workshop/fringe at the 2016 National Black members’ conference on Black mental health is promoted and seek to request that UNISON affiliate to Black Mental health UK;

5. Dedicate a large part of the Summer /Autumn Black Action 2016 to Black Mental Health; this to include articles highlighting specific illnesses and articles highlighting stigmas and specific organisations that can help with mental health issues;

6. Work with other UNISON national committees to highlight how the Equality Act 2010 applies to mental health illnesses and relates to members in the workplace

Submitted by:

National Black Members’ Committee

Leeds Local Government