Becoming an anti-racist organisation: progress update May 2021

Our mission is a better quality of life for everyone severely affected by mental illness. One result of the racial inequality in society is that people from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds can experience different rates of mental illness than the majority white population. Things like fear, stigma and lack of culturally sensitive treatment may also prevent people from accessing the mental health care they need.

Next week is the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. In the days and weeks that followed, the global response to this horrendous event forced us to confront our own shortcomings in challenging racism. Following honest – and at times painful - conversations with employees, people severely affected by mental illness and partners across the health and social care sector and beyond, we made a commitment to become a truly anti-racist organisation.

What does this mean to us? It means putting equity (or fairness) at the heart of everything we do. It means campaigning for better mental health support for people from Black, Asian or minority ethnic communities, working with them to co-design the services they need and challenging the inequalities that underpin poor mental health. It also means creating a truly inclusive and anti-racist workplace.

Here are some of the steps we have been taking:

Supporting the mental health of communities adversely affected by racism

We’re investing in key roles focused on addressing inequalities and injustice in the health and social care system, particularly around race. This includes a leadership role which we will be advertising soon. This new role will lead the charity in understanding the issues and inequalities faced by people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds living with severe mental illness. This will help us to identify policy and practice solutions that can deliver real change.

We are now playing a key role in facilitating the coproduction of new models of community mental health with experts by experience and NHS England. Ensuring we are working with people from minority backgrounds, people with lived experience who can represent their local communities and in partnership with local organisations and grassroots communities is of highest priority. This will ensure NHS England’s transformation of community mental health care doesn’t just work for existing users of services but also for excluded groups with unmet needs.

Our ongoing campaign to reform the Mental Health Act is shaped and informed by racial disparities in how many people are detained under the Act and their outcomes. There’s a long way to go but by ensuring the reformed Act recognises the individual backgrounds, experiences and needs of people treated under it, the government will be taking a big step in the right direction. At the same time, NHS England is taking forward the recommendation for a Patient and Carer Racial Equality Framework to improve outcomes for people from diverse backgrounds in inpatient mental health care. We are also involved in recommendations to deliver culturally sensitive advocacy.  

With allies across the mental health sector, we've continued to apply pressure on the government publicly and privately to implement Seni's Law, the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018. It has not yet been enacted despite passing through Parliament several years ago following campaigning by Rethink Mental Illness and others. We're hopeful that this law will be implemented within the next year and will keep pushing strongly for this to happen. 

Becoming an anti-racist organisation

  • We have commissioned an extensive programme of work with an independent consultancy that works with organisations to assist them in becoming anti-racist.
  • We understand that our workforce is not currently as diverse or representative as it needs be to mirror the community we serve. Because of this we are committed to diversifying our staff, and in particular the senior levels of management and leadership.
  • We are creating roles to ensure reducing racial injustice plays a part in everything we do.
  • Moving forward, the Human Resources team will be working on recruitment and selection policies to not only create positive action, but to remove any bias that may disadvantage those from disproportionately represented groups.
  • We’ve added equity as new value and guiding principle of our strategy for 2021-2023.
  • We are developing anti-racist training with specialist organisations as part of our learning and development offer and on-boarding process.

We know this isn’t yet enough and there’s still a long road ahead, but we are putting the right resources and infrastructure in place to underpin our commitment. We will continue to seek out and listen to the experiences of those affected by racism and ensure they have a platform. We will lend our support and our voice to the work of organisations tackling racial inequality and we will continue with our efforts to ensure a truly anti-racist workplace.

Rethink Mental Illness Executive team, May 2021