4 ways to prioritise race and mental health post-pandemic
To be seen, heard and understood is one of the key roles of a therapist helping people to feel validated. Yet, so many times stigma, ambivalence and a dose of pride can surround many of us when thinking about reaching out to ask for help - resulting in waiting far too long to get help to address our mental health issues.
This stigma is particularly more prevalent amongst Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, where there is a much higher risk of developing mental health conditions, compared to white counterparts.
Many BAME communities may view therapy as something white people do, and have more of a pervasive distrust to accessing mental health services, particularly if delivered by people outside of their community.
"I will pick myself up, persevere, pray a bit, and maybe things will work out?"
I have many conversations, that go like this in consultations for group and one-to-one psychotherapy, particularly with Black women. They often don’t feel their problems are worthy of seeing a therapist, or is it the reluctance to ask for help and see their own pain?
I often wonder if the external consciousness of being oppressed in this world where being the ‘other’, or non-white is agony, creating a much higher threshold for pain, which quickly leads to feelings of helplessness and, often, burnout.
Why the stigma, especially for Black women?
Black and Asian men are eight times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and sectioned under the mental health act. If you are a Black man, you are 20 times more likely to be detained using control and restraint or enter the mental health system through the criminal justice system.
In the case of Black women dying in childbirth, Rochelle Humes recently presented The Black Maternity Scandal to highlight this problem and spur the government on to make a target to reduce the number of deaths.
Hence, it is no surprise many BAME communities, particularly Black people, have difficulty reaching out or asking for help, in what seems to be a routinely weaponised mental health care system.
What percentage of therapists are Black or from other ethnic groups?
An ethical and representative diverse workforce of culturally competent professionals could mitigate some of these experiences and start to address the well-documented issue of unequal clinical outcomes.
It is long acknowledged the lack of BAME workforce in the mental health profession. In many cases, clinicians do not even have the cultural competence or framework to support BAME communities. For example, research by the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals make up only 9% of the workforce.
Psychiatry and psychology remain massively underrepresented. There are significant challenges for Black and Asian people to get accepted onto clinical doctorate programmes to get the relevant qualifications.
Hence, more needs to be done to increase the number of BAME therapists and mental health professionals in the industry, as not addressing this is leading to severe consequences and health inequalities that have been particularly amplified during Covid.
How to prioritise race and mental health post-pandemic
To prioritise race and mental health in BAME communities post-pandemic, we need to explore alternative workforces to supplement the mental healthcare system and help existing workforces to increase their level of understanding related to specific life experiences, including issues of race, religion and culture.
Here are four ways we can start to do this post-pandemic:
1. Preventative mental health
A number of mental health campaigners have podcasts, blogs, Instagram accounts and other online resources that provide good information, advice and guidance - specifically for Black mental health or inclusive of your community.
Representation in language and pictures (which is culturally relevant) challenges the stigma and encourages open dialogue and discussion across communities, homes and workplaces.
2. Workplace Employee Assistant Programmes or Occupational Health
This may offer some preventative mental health or time-limited one-to-one counselling sessions with a qualified therapist. However, workplaces can supplement this with a proactive approach to mental health support, which is culturally tailored or nuanced promoting a culture of belonging.
3. GP or Community Mental Health Teams
If you are already accessing mental health services and are diagnosed with a mental illness, you are entitled to be offered a choice of treatment. Always ask to be matched with a keyworker or therapist from a BAME background (if that is your preference) and make sure your preferences are known and documented in your individual care plan, which you should have signed and received a copy of.
However, don’t assume because your therapist is Black or from a similar cultural background that they will be the right fit for you. It is important to meet with them before to discuss how you will work together.
4. Consider talking therapies
This is an excellent way to support your mental health and you can choose the therapist who is right for you, without excessive form filling, GP referrals or waiting lists. You will be able to access this support almost immediately, depending on the availability of the therapist you choose.
Don’t wait until things get on top of you. If you are feeling stressed, anxious or low, or perhaps you are being bullied at work or experiencing microaggressions, speak to someone today.
Most therapists offer a free consultation, many have sliding scales and will able to offer advice or signposting if they are unable to help you. If you have no or a low budget, you may want to consider group therapy. Accessing a group online is often affordable, easy and still provides the privacy you need to open up.