Racism and Mental Health

Black and ethnic minorities are more often:

1.    diagnosed as schizophrenic

2.    compulsorily detained under the Mental Health Act

3.    admitted as ‘offender patients'

4.    held by police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act

5.    transferred to locked wards from open wards

6.    not referred for psychotherapy

7.    given high doses of medication

8.    sent to psychiatrists by courts

9.    have unmet needs

Source : S. Fernando (2003) Cultural Diversity, Mental Health and Psychiatry: The Struggle Against Racism  

Also another thing to add, they are more likely than their white counterparts to die under mental health care through control and restraint.

There are some racists who use this information to say a person of colour is predisposed to have a mental illness, that it is a genetic weakness because of race. What these racists don't say is that in the country of their ethnic origin, they are less likely to develop psychosis, and if they do, they have a better recovery rate than with euro-centric psychiatry. 

So does you or your parents/grandparents going through Gatwick or Heathrow turn on the genetic switch to mental health problems, or does the experience of hostility, racism, exclusion, victimisation, and inequality in society have something to do with it? 

I have quite a few vivid memories as a child around racism: one being my NF neighbour spitting on me when I was in the garden, aged about 5 or 6. A little bit older, in the east end of London, I was chased by a gang of youths, who screamed they were going to 'kill a paki'. Coupled with the abuse I experienced inside the family home, the outside world was not much safer or kinder. Where can an identity be formed in that, where can the mind rest when it has to balance between two knives? Part of my early psychosis was thinking I was an alien. You don't need to be Einstein to see how feeling alienated could translate into thinking you were an alien. 

My long line of white middle class psychiatrists could not get that racism is damaging to the soul. So participating in reports such as Kalathil's (2011) Recovery and resilience: African, African Caribbean and South Asian women’s narratives of recovering from mental distress. London: Mental Health Foundation and Survivor Research, was something I needed to do, to vent the pain around it but also hopefully to inform mental health professionals better about the experience of BME people in the mental health system. 

Because sadly there is still racism in Mental Health services, I haven't been called Paki or anything like that, but there has been no-one to talk about how being of mixed heritage made me feel conflicted as I was caught between two cultures. It also shows itself in small and telling ways. I can remember when I was an inpatient on a psychiatric ward and it was the first meal time of that particular stay there: I was given no choice in what I could eat and just had a curry dropped on my tray. The assumption because I was partly Indian, that I only ate curry. When I said I didn't want a curry and wanted something else, I was told to stop making trouble. I may not have been spat upon or chased down a street, but it made me feel awkward and separate, it made me feel like an alien again.