"Systemic inequalities” – why it is so important for us to run dedicated BAME services
At Rethink Mental Illness, we are committed to supporting everybody who is severely affected by mental illness. For different people, that might mean different things. Carers may find solace in our support groups, people recovering from a mental health crisis may find hope in our supported housing services and those of us applying for crucial welfare support may find guidance from our Advice and Information team. For people from a Black and minority ethnic (BAME) background, we run two services which provide dedicated support on prevalent issues for them.
Although these services host events and workshops that are aimed at people from a BAME background, they support anyone within the community if they are having any issues with mental illness. For example, our Bristol BAME service has had over 350 people – from various backgrounds – take on their mental health first aid training over the last few years. But it also runs dedicated events which are specifically designed to look at the intersection between racism and mental health.
“We’ve had people come back to us after these events and explain how pleased they were that the event created an open conversation about racism, identity and the impact those things can have on mental health”, says Narinder Chana, Bristol Community Development Worker: Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities.
The word ‘community’ is something which is thrown around a lot in the mental health sector right now. And it’s something which consistently came through when we spoke to both Narinder and Carol Gosal, the Service Manager at our Sahayak service in Gravesend, Kent, which has been running for 25 years now.
“Knowing the community needs is crucial” Carol says.
“We worked right from the beginning with community ownership – even our name was given to us by our first batch of volunteers, ‘Sahayak’ means helpful in Hindi.
“I sit on various levels of multi-agency working – as do some of the support workers. So we know exactly what sources of support there are for anyone that comes to us, in lots of different areas of the community. I think that’s what makes us unique.”
The Sahayak service – like our Bristol Community Development Worker – also runs regular events. One that stands out is the Sadi Awaaz Suno (Listen To Our Voices) event that it runs alongside the Kent Equality Cohesion Council annually. The event attracts over 300 women and girls from the local area in an attempt to break down the stigma surrounding mental health within Asian communities. Working closely with Kent Police is crucial to its success, as issues including domestic abuse/'honour'-based violence and forced marriages are discussed at length.
Carol thinks working with different agencies is pivotal to providing better outcomes for people from BAME backgrounds, “Having that multi-agency approach is so important. After Black Lives Matter, we had a group of senior police officers coming down to take a knee, and that sort of thing has a big impact at a grassroots level. Whether it’s the police force or another organisation, it’s respecting that you’re making your contribution. I think that makes a big difference.”
It was after the Black Lives Matter movement shot to prominence in 2020 that we set out our stance to become an anti-racist organisation. But what impact did the movement have on the work of our BAME services?
“Before last summer (2020), the side of my job that focused on systemic racism and race equity had dropped off a little bit but now it has really picked up a lot again” says Narinder.
“We’ve now got more interest from people in getting trained around issues with race and mental health, and learning about how to address decades of inequality when it comes to mental health and BAME communities.”
This is why, at Rethink Mental Illness, we think it’s so important to provide dedicated services for people from Black and minoritised ethnic backgrounds. Their experiences of accessing mental health services can often be different to that of a white person.
Pathways into care and routes through the system are not the same.
“The pathways into care and routes through the system are not the same for some of the people that we work with compared to others” explains Narinder.
“There’s definitely systemic inequalities that come up for some carers in comparison to others, for example. There are often people stuck in the system and they find it hard to get out.”
It’s because of this that there can often be a negative association with accessing services for people from BAME backgrounds, says Narinder.
“There are also issues around stigma and mistrust of services which might mean that people from BAME communities take longer to reach out to these services – meaning that they are more unwell when they do come into services. This could mean that their experience of those services is a bit more coercive and that can then impact on trust as well.
“The model we use here in Bristol enables us to build relationships with Black and minoritsed communities, building trust, building a better understanding of mental health, of what effective treatment from mental health services looks like and what you are entitled to as a mental health service user.”
Both services have phone numbers available so that people can call up to see what support they can be provided. The Sahayak Service even runs a dedicated helpline for 12 hours a week between Monday-Thursday. This direct support that the services can provide to people is what both Carol and Narinder speak most passionately about.
Carol explains it perfectly; “For me, if you’ve helped one person, that is a lifetime achievement. If you help to save somebody’s life, there are no measurements for that.”
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