A topic that has risen to the forefront of daily conversations. But there are still areas within this that need more light shone upon them. Admittedly, over the years and through generations, we’ve come a long way when it comes to how we perceive mental health.
With anything, there are still barriers that need to be broken down. There’s lots of stigma surrounding mental health, even more so for black individuals. This is heavily down to how society and organisations, such as the police, respond to black people with mental health conditions. Often being villainized, singled out and ignored.
The views within our society can have detrimental effects on those within these communities. Many will not get the treatment they need if they reach out, or may not reach out at all. The problem only increases with age, as black individuals enter into adulthood, their already quietened down voices fading more or being misinterpreted.
Back in 2002, author Frank Keating addressed the issue in an insightful report titled: ‘Breaking the Circles of Fear’. The report reviewed the relationship between mental health services and African and Caribbean communities.
‘There are circles of fear that stop Black people from engaging with services.’From ‘Breaking the Circles of Fear’, Page 9, Section Executive Summary
It is such an insightful and powerful report which still speaks volumes two decades later. The report is packed with issues black people face in regards to mental health; within the report Keating discusses solutions to these problems. It got me thinking about why there is not more being done; these issues are noticeable and there are solutions. Currently, things are being done to deal with mental health in black communities; evidently the wrong things which in time have generated fear, as Keating explored.
Why are so many black people scared to reach out for help, in regards to their mental health?
There were upsetting statistics in a report, about detentions under the Mental Health Act, on the Gov.uk website. Commonly if a person has been detained under the MHA it is because authorities feel that they are a harm to themselves or others. The report was published on March 4th 2021, and has a breakdown on percentages when it comes to being detained under the MHA across various groups.
Leading up to the year March 2020, Black people were more than 4 times as likely as White people to be detained under the Mental Health Act – 321.7 detentions per 100,000 people, compared with 73.4 per 100,000 people
Black Caribbean people had the highest rate of detention out of all ethnic groups (excluding groups labelled ‘Other’)Statistics taken from Gov.uk report from 4th March 2021
From the above statistics we can begin to understand why individuals would be apprehensive to reach out. As Keating rightly said, some services are ‘inhumane, unhelpful and inappropriate’. Black people who try to access mental health services aren’t ‘treated with respect and their voices are not heard’.
We’ve seen it countless times, a black person, (with mental health struggles), who is cooperating being labelled as a threat and as aggressive. The statistics perpetuate a view that black individuals presenting with a struggle are problematic and therefore should be handled with force.
A clear example, when Kevin Clarke, who had schizophrenia, was restrained. The police put him in several restraints which in due course led to his death on March 9th 2018. The officers claimed that he was ‘a bit fidgety’ and therefore that justified the use of handcuffs. Although Clarke was not a threat to the officers, they inevitably were a threat to him.
‘It is highly likely that at least one officer heard Mr Clarke say ‘I can’t breathe’Taken from the Guardian
In a statement Clarke’s mother reported her son had previously mentioned he was afraid of the police. This was due to how they had mistreated him in the past and he’d been tasered by them. It is the continued use of force and harmful stereotypes from organisations which continues to make it hard.
‘Black people see using mental health services as a degrading and alienating experience: the last resort.’From ‘Breaking the Circles of Fear’, Page 24, Section Exploring Circles of Fear
What can be done?
- Giving those in power and those who work with vulnerable people the proper training and information. If those took the time to educate themselves on various Mental Health conditions, then it would hopefully help them gain more insight.
- Understanding and being aware of struggles black people may face that could cause their mental health to deteriorate e.g. Racial Injustice. When we acknowledge the struggles they face we can start to put things in place and understand what resources may be needed most.
- Continuing to have these conversations to raise awareness and destigmatize mental health in black communities. Often mental health is not talked about in these communities and therefore it can make people feel like it’s not okay to talk.
- Providing black professionals with more control and bigger platforms so they can help initiate positive change. If they are more likely to be employed in lower roles than the help and knowledge they can offer may be more limited.
“Sometimes, when you want to do things, make it better for patients, you report what’s wrong in the ward, but because you are Black, it’s always brushed under the carpet, the next time it happens, you do nothing, just leave it. And even if sometimes you discuss this between the Black guys, what’s going on and what if you try to change things, someone will sneak behind your back and go and report … so you think, will it ever work?”From ‘Breaking the Circles of Fear’, Page 32, Identifying Impediments to change
Books focusing on Mental Health in Black Communities:
- Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith
- Black Mental Health: Patients, Providers, and Systems
- Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting
- The International Handbook of Black Community Mental Health
- The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health
UK Services for Mental Health
USA Services for Mental Health
Mikayla is a budding Fashion and Graphic Designer, she has her own brand, inspired by Mental Health, called “The Mattah”. Through her brand she discuses her own struggles with mental health and encourages others to express how they feel. When not designing garments and sewing, she also spends time cooking among other creative outlets.