Mental Health Awareness Week and the importance of kindness
As a black woman, mental health is a topic that has long both interested and troubled me. Specifically, why is mental health still reported to be taboo within ethnic communities? This is obviously a complex topic and I do not in any way profess to be an expert.
In 2019, the Mental Health Foundation reported on the mental health of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, noting that it is especially important because people from our community also ‘often face individual and societal challenges that can affect access to healthcare and overall mental and physical health’. The report noted some of the key issues which affect the mental health of ethnic minorities, including:
As a lawyer, I know all too well that there is much work to be done within the criminal justice system, especially in relation to the under-representation of ethnic minorities, but the stigma attached to mental health is my primary focus here.
Why is talking about mental health so sensitive; we are often very happy to discuss physical ill-health, even in respect of sensitive parts of the body?
The Race Equality Foundation published a report on mental health within ethnic minorities citing that:
‘There is evidence that black and minority ethnic individuals are 40% more likely than white Britons to come into contact with mental health services through the criminal justice system, rather than through referral from GPs or talking therapies (Kane, 2014). There have been a number of explanations for these differences, whether due to limited awareness of, or a reluctance to engage with, statutory services at an early stage of illness (possibly due to previous poor experiences or the belief that services are not “culturally appropriate”) or the stigma around mental health in some communities. Cultural differences in the way that mental health is perceived may also decrease the likelihood of individuals seeking care before reaching crisis point’.
Various other reports have also found that ethnic minorities receive a poorer mental health service, which clearly does not lend itself to people accessing such services readily.
So how do we overcome this stigma? There is of course no single answer to this problem but here are my thoughts on what would make a difference – and kindness is at the root of it all:
Shannett Thompson is a Senior Associate in the Regulatory Team and Chair of Kingsley Napley’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) & Allies network.
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