This year was the first year City Lit’s Mental Wealth Festival featured a panel specifically exploring BAME experiences of mental health.
The panel consisted of a mix of experts and mental health professionals who shared their personal experiences to help demonstrate the huge disparities BAME individuals experience within the mental health services in the UK, whilst also highlighting the need for an intersectional approach and safe spaces.
Delrose Bowes, Coordinator Wellbeing, Psychology & Counselling programmes at City Lit was joined by Camillea Johnson, L.B.Q. Womxn of Colour UK; Sandra Kerr CBE, Race Equality Director, Business in the Community; Nisba Ahmed, Equality Improvement Leader, Mind; and Anthony Davis, integrative counsellor and psychotherapist.
Over the course of the panel, it became very clear that people who are from an ethnic minority background experience a significant disparity in mental health, with BAME individuals being more likely to be sectioned under the mental health act, despite non-ethnic minorities being twice as likely to receive treatment for mental health problems.
A few personal stories really stayed with us from the day:
Developing the NHS
Anthony Davis spoke first at the panel, detailing his experience both as someone who suffered from poor mental health, and as a counselor and psychotherapist in the UK.
Anthony’s experience growing up as a gay black man in the US who was heavily involved in the church led him to feel ‘like I’m not the person I should be’. This disparity resulted in mental health issues in his adolescence. Today he is a counselor and psychotherapist, specialising in treatment for BAME members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I want to shed light on the disparities of the BAME experience”
When Anthony began practicing in the UK he noticed a lack of overall trust in the NHS with BAME people. He also noted that, once they are treated, there is often a significant language barrier ‘leading to many people suffering in silence’.
He also found that many LGBTQ+ BAME youth also face specific struggles with mental health: ‘often they find integrating their LGBT identity with their community is difficult’ with LGBTQ+ men in particular feeling ‘lost, like they aren’t what they are supposed to be’.
He advised BAME LGBTQ+ individuals suffering from poor mental health to seek out professionals, such as himself, who will understand their story. He also called for greater diversity and cultural understanding within the NHS, stating ‘I want to shed light on the disparities of the BAME experience’.
Creating Safe Spaces
Camillea Johnson, founder of L.B.Q womxn of colour, spoke next.
Camillea detailed her experience of mental health and how creating her own community helped her embrace her sexuality. After coming out, she struggled to find a safe space for ‘womxn of colour’ outside of clubbing, and felt that there was a ‘a lack of visibility around women who represent [her]’ within popular culture.
She emphasised how LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly the victims of discrimination and hate crime, are likely to experience mental health problems. 2/3 LGBT people who have been the victim of a hate crime have experienced depression.
To counter this, she created L.B.Q womxn of colour an organisation which creates a safe space for BAME womxn in the UK. Camillea spoke about how she wanted her organisation to help black LGBTQ+ women to feel seen, valued and accepted, something she didn’t feel until she founded the group.
Peer to Peer Support
Camillea was followed by Equality Improvement Leader at Mind, Nisba Ahmed.
Nisba spoke about her own struggles with mental health and mental health within the Muslim community at large.
Mental health is seen as a taboo subject, especially in the Muslim community
She found that ‘mental health is seen as taboo subject, especially in the Muslim community’ with prayer often substituted for therapy or counselling. In order to encourage conversation about mental health, Nisba created an informal peer support group with mothers at her children’s school. This group helped the women to grow in confidence and talk openly about mental health in a safe environment outside of their homes.
Nisba also stressed the importance of these support groups, particularly when NHS treatment for mental health for certain communities and cultures can be culturally insensitive. However, she emphasised that these groups need to have clear boundaries, with a trained mental health professional running them.
BAME Mental Health in Future
Over the past few years the stigma surrounding mental health has shifted, mainly due to the effectiveness of national campaigns and evolving methods of treatment and diagnosis.
However, these are only reaching some individuals. Sandra Kerr CBE stressed that ‘there are many great therapies but often BAME get it too late’.
With the BAME population in the UK growing – 1 in 4 children of school age are from a BAME background – it is important the disparities in mental health diagnosis and treatment be addressed as soon as possible.
All four speakers highlighted ways to address these disparities including, increased BAME representation within the NHS, informal support groups and inclusive organizations such as L.B.Q womxn of colour.
Enjoy this blog? You might also want to check out our thoughts on the pernicious effects of Cancel Culture, or this blog full of takeaways from our visit to the Women of the World Festival earlier this year.