Staying Sane in an Insane World: Minority Health Series Pt 1

Staying Sane in an Insane World: Minority Health Series Pt 1

Minorities and Mental Health: The Statistics

If you are a Black or Asian man in Britain, you are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious mental health condition and be treated as a mental health inpatient than a white man.  The statistics for Black women are just as bleak.

There are various factors contributing to these grim statistics, but I wish to focus on 3 areas in particular: lack of understanding, community attitudes and budget constraints.

I Don’t Get You: Lack of Understanding

There appears to be a disconnect between health/mental health in general in the medical profession – as if the two are not related to each other.  This disconnect – between “head” and “body” indicates a wider lack of understanding of how inner and outer environments can combine to create ill health – whether in body or mind.

This disconnect also extends to the area of mental health – most mental health practitioners are white, yet the majority of people in the mental health system are not; a lack of understanding of the culture of the people being treated often means that what is considered “abnormal” behaviour in the dominant population is accepted in another.  For example, an African or Afro-Caribbean female speaks loudly, waves her hands while speaking and believes she receives guidance from her (deceased) mother may be considered delusional – she isn’t, but she is depressed at being homeless and alone.   The symptoms are seen, but the woman is being seen in parts – not in the whole context of her life and who she is.

Community Attitudes: The Elephant in the Room

While the subject of mental health in the general population still remains somewhat taboo, there is even greater reticence in the Black and Asian communities around the subject.  Any sign of weakness, particularly vis-à-vis the wider population, is to be avoided at all costs – i.e. avoid appearing vulnerable.    The silence of the community as a whole is truly the elephant in the room, which means that diagnosis and treatment is delayed to the point where mental illness has truly set in.  There is also a lingering perception that mental health issues automatically mean insanity – the number of times I’ve heard this (as a psychotherapist) from friends and acquaintances is truly astonishing.  “I don’t need counselling, I’m not mad!” is the phrase often used – to which I counter, “It’s actually the other way around – counselling can help you sort things out before you drive yourself mad!”

Mental vs Financial Health: Budget Issues

In the UK (and elsewhere), continued cuts to health and social welfare budgets continue to decimate local communities’ ability to access adequate healthcare.  This means that the most vulnerable in society – particularly Blacks and Asians with mental health issues – are increasingly unable to access counselling or community support projects (wprison-bedhich are run by members of the community being served), which could help reduce the numbers of people being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

What Can You Do to Help Yourself (or Someone Else)?

male-silhouette-holding-head-in-handsIf you are struggling to cope emotionally with your life – get help!  Contact your GP or other health professional who is duty-bound to help you and maintain confidentiality.

If you had a broken leg or bad heart, would you be ashamed to ask for help?  Of course MinorityMnot! Your mental health is no different – health is health, period.


Speak with your family and/or close friends –don’t suffer alone and in silence, creating even more distress due to isolation.

Most importantly, admit you need help – acknowledging the challenge you face is the first step towards resolving it!

Resources: Where to Go

Start with your doctor or other health professional, you will need them to refer you for any counselling.

If you belong to a faith group, many clergy also have counselling degrees; this is another option to look at.

You can also check online for organisations in your local community for support; for counselling information and support, check out the Black and Asian Therapists Network (BAATN), which supports Black and Asian psychotherapists and counsellors, as well as the wider community.

In Part 2 of the Minorities and Health Series, a look will be taken at the impact of Diabetes on minority communities.

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