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Mental Health

Racism and Mental Health

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on the day the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws” in 1960.

Racism has had a huge impact on my life, from the age of 7 to 17 I suffered direct racial abuse from people in the streets and systemic racism from school, the police, and also the mental health system.

Even  though I struggled with poor mental health, and racism was a clear factor in this, it was never brought up by social workers or medical professionals. It seemed that my reaction to racism was the problem rather than the racism itself. And when I questioned it, I was deemed a troublemaker or I “had a chip on my shoulder”. I remember one psychotherapist who was keen to know about my experiences growing up as a mixed ethnicity child adopted into a white family. He was convinced this was the cause of my problems but was unconcerned when I told him “my family are great, they weren’t the ones abusing me”. He had no interest in hearing about me being regularly attacked by skinheads and squaddies (I grew up in a barrack town) or about being held back in schools, in sports or later in my career.

After the death of George Floyd, and because of the blatant racism I have experienced over the years and the racism I was now seeing online from the yoga and wellness communities, I was inspired to create my own anti-racism training. I am on the faculty teaching this for the leading yoga training provider in the UK, Yogacampus, and other large yoga training providers.

So what do we know about racism and mental health?

Your Race and Ethnicity have a clear link to mental health from exposure to more risk factors, access to services, how you are referred, diagnosis given and treatment outcomes.

Harassment, discrimination, bullying, social isolation, poverty, migration, trauma, unemployment, poor housing, homelessness, family history, stress and in particular social stressors and inner city life are all risk factors for mental ill health ill. And if you’re from a Black or minority ethnic background, guess what? You’re more likely to be affected by them.

What does the science say?

Leading researcher in this field, Dr Robert Carter, showed that many individuals who have suffered racial discrimination experienced it as a form of trauma similar to post traumatic stress disorder (Carter et al. 2009).

A more recent study examined this further and showed a relationship between racial discrimination and dissociation, which is disconnection from thoughts, feelings, memories, identity, surroundings and time.

Thankfully there is now a growing body of high quality research studying the effects of racism on mental health and even though there were clear links shown in previous research for some reason this was ignored.

What do the stats say?

  • People from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds felt the possible financial costs of therapeutic interventions were too expensive since the majority of Black and minority ethnic people were from poor socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Historically, ethnic minorities have been more likely to be prescribed antidepressants and other forms of medication rather than psychological and cognitive behavioural interventions which eliminate the need for dependency on drugs.
  • Out of 16 specific ethnic groups, Black Caribbean people had the highest rates of detention under the mental health act 2020.

I could go on with shocking statistics but let’s look at the impact of these three. 

The cost of counselling and talking therapies are seen to be out of reach for minority ethnic people and so the private route is seen as inaccessible.

Due to systemic racism suffered by Black and minority ethnic populations there may be a deep distrust of authority which causes fear of accessing free NHS medical services.

We know that early intervention is vital when treating mental health conditions.

If Black people are more likely to be given drugs than talking therapies this means that the symptoms are being treated rather than the root of the problem, which talking therapies seek to do. So the problem is still there and all that happens is the person becomes dependent on drugs.

And so if that early intervention and follow up treatment is not there, then it’s more likely that intervention will come at crisis level and the stats back this up as White people are more likely to be sectioned/referred by their GP or CMHT (community mental health team) and Black people by the police.

What can we do about it?

Real change is happening within mental health services but a deep distrust of authority is a very real thing and will take time to heal. If you haven’t experienced racism yourself this may be a hard, or even impossible, thing to understand.

To make active change now, we as individuals must not only become actively anti-racist we must empower ourselves and each other to learn about mental health and how we can support each other.

There are specialist mental health services available specifically for Black & minority ethnic people like Black Minds Matter who connect Black individuals and their families to free mental health services and Nafsiyat the intercultural therapy centre  which offers talking therapies in over 20 languages.

Mental Health First Aid England has an excellent downloadable PDF on supporting the wellbeing and mental health of People of Colour and Black people in the workplace.

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2020: What a Year!

rollercoaster

A tremendously difficult year

What a rollercoaster the year has been. The number of people reporting poor mental health increased massively due to the coronavirus pandemic. The murder of George Floyd sparked protests around the world, causing many people to question their own biases. And Brexit is finally upon us!

the world is closed

Coronavirus and mental health

There have been so many extra reasons to stress this year. Concerns about health. Uncertainty about money, jobs and housing. Families juggling working from home with home schooling and entertaining children. The loneliness of people living on their own or shielding. The enormous strain on NHS staff and other key workers. Constantly changing lockdown rules and tier systems causing confusion about what you’re allowed to do or not. Gyms, leisure facilities and hospitality (and sadly some mental health support services) closing and being unable to meet with friends and family. A loss of freedom and, for many, a loss of loved ones. It’s no wonder that almost half of the UK population have felt anxious or worried.

Public Health England (PHE) have developed a new Covid-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance report (HMW) which gathers data from academia and public and voluntary sector reports. Their aim is to have ‘near to real time’ data on the mental health and wellbeing of people and communities across the country.

It’s emerging findings are that some groups have been disproportionally including adults those with pre-existing mental health conditions and those out of work.

food bank

We need more help

At a time when people need more mental health support, it’s sad to see services cut. This is the activity room at The Bridge in Harrow, a purpose built centre for mental health run by Rethink. Up until the beginning of lockdown it was used for yoga and other activities to support the mental health of some of the most vulnerable in the community. As the pandemic took it’s toll on people’s jobs and finances, it is now used a food bank. There are regularly queues of over 100 people there.

For almost 8 years, I taught a restorative yoga for mental health class for CNWL NHS trust and Harrow council. For a long time the class was packed and I had a waiting list but over the years due to central government cuts and changes in the way those with mental health access services, I saw the numbers dwindle. The NHS didn’t have the staff to process the funding applications for service users. It’s a truly shocking state of affairs.

black lives matter

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted how very far we still are from being an equal society. This is particularly true in regards to mental health. Black people are twice as likely to be admitted to mental health inpatient wards than White. And they are more likely to be referred by the criminal justice system than by a GP.

I am very proud to have been asked by Mental Health First Aid England to become a plenary speaker on racism and it’s effect on mental health. I have much personal experience on this subject.

I have joined the faculty at Yogacampus to lecture on Race, Ethnicity & Yoga on their Yoga Therapy diploma. I have taught this module for YogaHub Dublin and London’s MoreYoga and will be teaching on several other yoga teacher trainings next year.

If you would like help in becoming an anti-racist organisation, please contact me.

goodbye 2020

Supporting your mental health in 2021

If you’re experiencing poor mental health, take a moment from your day to look at the NHS every mind matters campaign for some simple but useful tips and tools to help you manage your mental health.

Look for your local Mind or Rethink for services in your area. And Samaritans are always there if you’re in crisis.

A Mental Health First Aid course can teach you how to spot the signs of mental ill health and provide support, as well as looking after your own wellbeing. We offer both online and in person courses (covid19 restrictions permitting). Find out more and view our upcoming courses.

We wish you a happy, healthy and safe new year!

James & Sital.