Reframing Mental Health Support for BAME Communities in the UK

By Caroline Harroe (Harmless CEO)

The UK mental health system, despite some improvements over the years, has been repeatedly critiqued for a one-size-fits-all approach that seemingly marginalises racial and ethnic minority groups, particularly the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals.

Known Barriers:

1. Institutional Racism

A 2018 independent review of the Mental Health Act revealed how systemic discrimination can permeate into mental health services as well. BAME individuals were found to be disproportionately sectioned, with rates particularly high among Black Caribbean and Black African groups (CQC, 2018).

2. Cultural Stigma
BAME communities often deal with a higher level of stigma around mental health. This can lead to under-reporting of suicidal thoughts and reluctance to seek help (Mckenzie, 2008). 

3. Accessibility
Many BAME individuals face economic and social disadvantages that can result in lack of access to appropriate mental health services (Mental Health Foundation, 2021).

4. Lack of Culturally Sensitive Services
Therapy must consider cultural nuances, languages and individual experiences. Often, mental health services are seen as lacking understanding of diverse needs, backgrounds and experiences – forcing a ‘white’ model of therapy onto BAME individuals (Bhui, et al. 2007).

What we can do:
The systemic issues require broad-ranging interventions.

1. Tackling Institutional Racism
Policies must be re-examined, regulatory bodies must enforce fair practices, and racism training sessions should be made mandatory for care professionals.

2. Culturally Competent Services
Regulators need to ensure that mental health services are culturally sensitive, with professionals trained in responding effectively to BAME individuals.

3. Community Engagement
Liaising with community organisations could provide insights about the cultural stigma and specific needs of BAME communities, offering culturally apt mental health awareness programmes.

4. Improving Accessibility
Working towards equitable financial and social conditions to better service reach is crucial.

The path to parity in mental health care for BAME individuals remains challenging. However, acknowledging these barriers and working towards dismantling them is a step in the right direction. 

– Bhui, K., et al. (2007). Cultural competence in mental health care
– CQC (2018). Independent review of the Mental Health Act
– McKenzie, Kwame (2008). Racial discrimination and mental health
– Mental Health Foundation (2021). Inequities in mental health within BAME groups in the UK