The BAME Community and Mental Health

The BAME Community and Mental Health!

Are you aware that the BAME community in the UK are the most likely to develop mental health issues and are the least likely to seek mainstream help?

If you are from the BAME community this should strike a chord with you, as member of the BAME community it certainly does for me.

It triggers the toxic cultural perception of mental health which has been around for generations and is well and truly imbedded in our culture. I feel like I can say this on behalf of all BAME communities in the UK.

BAME is a very broad term and one I have mixed feeling about, especially when it comes to the context it is used for.

Mental health, is definitely one I have mixed feelings on when using the term BAME.

BAME represents a community with a broad range of cultural, racial and religious differences deeply ingrained. All of which impacts the perception of mental health in varying ways in each separate community.

Nonetheless the BAME community only represents about 13% of the UK population, around 8 million people from an estimated 66.6 million. So why is the BAME community more likely to develop mental health issues and are the least likely to seek mainstream help?

This of course naturally leads to mental health conditions going from mild, to moderate, to severe. The implication of which are too many to discuss on this article!

Now when it comes to answering that question, due to the differences in the BAME community, it becomes more a can of worms than a question.

It is not one that can be answered generally on behalf of the BAME community, it requires a researched and informed answer from each individual community. Trying to answer the question in a generic fashion would be seriously flawed and irrelevant.

BAME does not work in this context.

Let’s take the Chinese community for example, who are a tiny minority in the UK with a population estimated around half a million.

The Chinese mental health association http://www.cmha.org.uk/ seems to be the only organisations doing any work of this kind in the UK.

If there are others, they are not readily available or visible online. 

According to the Chinese National Healthy Living Centre, Language, culture, poor symptom recognition and stigma are often cited as barriers to access leading to low uptake of health services.

The NHS Executive Mental Health Task Force report observed that the Chinese and Vietnamese communities were largely ‘invisible’ to mainstream purchasers and providers.

The main areas of difficulty for Chinese families were:

• Lack of English

• Lack of knowledge of their rights

• Cultural differences, including lack of understanding by the statutory sector

• Scattered settlement

• Long and unsociable working hours

They also found that Chinese were more likely to be classified as having a severe lack of perceived social support. Social support is significantly associated with mental health and wellbeing.

The fact is mainstream mental health services in the UK do not know much at all, when it comes to the mental health of the Chinese community

This is not surprising when it has also been reported that mental illness is concealed for fear of losing face. Mental illness is attributed to character flaws and hereditary causes. ‘Face’ in Chinese culture is viewed in relation to the whole family, rather than to the individual, and the shame and loss of face extends to the whole family.

Not to mention, whether positive or negative that, Chinese concepts of health and mental health are shaped by Chinese philosophies as much as by Chinese medicine.

All these complexities are a perfect example using one community, to highlight the fact that mental health cannot be grouped into a blanket approach for the BAME community 

Now the Black Caribbean and African population represents around 3.3% of the population, around 1.8 million people. The cultures of Caribbean and African are also different, even though the two are always put together, when it comes to mental health once again this is flawed.

Nonetheless there are many specific and mainstream mental health services readily available to this community, yet there are some frightening statistics!

According to Mental Health Foundation

Detention rates under the Mental Health Act are four times higher for people in the ‘Black’ or ‘Black British’ group than those in the ‘White’ group

Risk of psychosis in Black Caribbean groups is estimated to be nearly seven times higher than in the White population

Whilst the White Caucasian population experienced the highest rates for suicidal thoughts, suicide rates are higher among young men of Black African, Black Caribbean origin, and among middle aged Black African, Black Caribbean women!

Heartbreakingly they found that the influences on BAME communities’ mental health were

·     Racism and discrimination

·     Social and economic inequalities

·     Mental health stigma

·     Criminal justice system

As you can see with the Black and Chinese communities, there are some similarities and after that it’s like comparing apples and pairs. This is why individual and specific information from each community is a must.

Now, let me tell you something that will make you spit your tea out!

The BAME community represents 13% of the UK population, you might be surprised to know however that BAME represents 21% of the NHS workforce!

According to the UK government website

There was a higher percentage of staff in medical roles (working as doctors in hospitals and community health services) from the Asian, Chinese, Mixed and Other ethnic groups than in non-medical roles

Among the non-medical workforce, staff from the Asian, Black, Mixed and Other ethnic groups made up a smaller number of those at senior grades (bands 8a to 9) and the ‘very senior manager’ grade than at the support (bands 1 to 4) and middle grades (bands 5 to 7)

A higher percentage of junior doctors were from the Black, Chinese, Mixed and Other groups than senior doctors

So as you can see, the BAME community is heavily invested in the core of the NHS, BAME also is omnipresent at all levels and at the very highest level!

So with all that intelligence, medical background, experience and knowledge, why is the BAME community in the UK, the ones most likely to develop mental health issues and are the least likely to seek mainstream help?

When you look at that statistics in this way, the question beggars belief!

The BAME community in the UK are happy to work in and play a major part in the mainstream medical sector in the UK, yet the least likely to seek the same mainstream help for mental health.

In fact the BAME community in the UK should actually be a leading light for mental health for BAME communities throughout Europe and the world, yet they are failing in their own backyard.

So why is the BAME community not taking their work home with them??

It’s now time for the BAME community to to take a long hard look at mental health and start to apply the mainstream thinking, help and strategies, it’s time for self-reflection, time to rally to the parts of the community that needs that expertise.

It’s time to end the cultural stigma, start the conversations within our own homes and amongst our family members and start a healing process with the expertise that the BAME community has plenty of and so deserves!

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