Mental health is a subject many choose to avoid due to fear or shame. One in four people in the UK will suffer with a form of mental illness in their lifetime, with an overwhelming proportion suffering from anxiety and depression. Being on the verge of 2016 in a first world western society, a high standard of mental health services should be available to all walks of life – but what happens when race and gender prohibit sufferers from receiving the treatment they deserve?

It is a known fact that, on average, men are less likely to admit to mental illness with only seventeen percent seeking help last year, but worryingly this meagre statistic dwarfs the number of black males in the UK who used mental health services.

mental health

There are limited resources available on the topic, but recent studies surrounding black mental health all steer towards the same reasoning for this shocking statistic. In the Salisbury Mental Health review – entitled ‘Breaking the Circles of Fear’ – a theory was developed: there is a stalemate, a toxic cycle of angst that engulfs both health care providers and sufferers alike. On top of this, many black males believe their opinions and needs are being neglected by the services, citing them as not accessible, welcoming, relevant or well-integrated in their community.

These combined notions give birth to hostility and resentment towards the system. Likewise, mental health advisors have become increasingly apprehensive in providing their aid to black males for fear of abuse and not knowing how to respond to the negative critique of their services. Whilst both sides would seldom admit this, the cycle is maintained by underlying racism and a misunderstanding of cultures.

mental health

Although there is a clear lack of sensitivity and understanding of black culture in mental health services, it is the culture itself which also provides a catastrophic effect on statistics for black males admitting to mental illness. Hickling et al’s ‘Mad Sick Head Nuh Good’ – which is also the title of a Jamaican dancehall song – discusses the stigma created by African and Caribbean societies, native and diasporic, which have led to an inherent fear surrounding mental disorders. As a result of this stigma being prominent in black culture, the “stigmatised group” are faced with possibilities of losing their reputation and dignity, and face constant discrimination from their communities which leads to the concealment of “stigmatised conditions”.

Disastrously but inevitably, this results in a knock on effect with mental health care providers. Black males often come to the services too late, with advanced states of mental conditions. This is a crisis, and reinforces the circle of fear spoken of in the Salisbury Mental Health review.

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How, then, do we rectify decades of cultural stigma and the mutual fear felt by both sufferers and service providers? A heightened cultural sensitivity and awareness to the stigma could improve relations no end, which could start within the education provided from a younger age – be that solely for the health care services, or for the general masses in regard to mental illness. Learning and speaking about a subject often lessens the fear surrounding it, thus encouraging a radical shift in those who come forward earlier.

Lastly, there is a general disregard for black mental health facilities and a lack of funding into sustaining ethnic establishments who understand their clients. If all else should fail, having these specific facilities properly-equipped would also improve the percentages. These changes won’t come overnight, though, but a broader awareness in the first instance may just get the ball rolling.

No matter your ethnicity, race or gender, if you are exhibiting signs of mental illness, please contact your local GP or call Mind on 0300 123 3393 for free, non-judgemental help and advice.

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