THE BLOG

We Need to Tackle Mental Health Stigma in African and Caribbean Communities

31/05/2013 13:22 BST | Updated 31/07/2013 10:12 BST

Mental health problems are extremely common across society, with one in four of us experiencing them in any year. Despite being so common, people from all communities will still experience discriminatory attitudes and behaviours that can prevent people from speaking out, seeking support and playing full and active roles in our communities. The impact of mental health stigma and discrimination will vary between communities as mental health has a cultural context that affects the way communities talk about the subject and engage with people who have mental health problems. In some cultures depression, for example, doesn't exist and in others an experience of a mental health problem can be attached to a sense of shame.

For the African and Caribbean communities a key issue is the overrepresentation of young African and Caribbean men in mental health services. Misconceptions and stereotypes have led to a perception that this group is more likely to pose a risk of violent behaviour and, as a result, they are more likely to be treated as inpatients and sectioned when compared to other groups. It is well documented that this has led to a fear of talking about mental health issues more openly and a fear of using mental health services. Research by the Race Equality Foundation (2011) also highlighted fears that discrimination against Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) communities and migrant service users will increase in the austerity climate and whilst commissioning arrangements change.

The African and Caribbean community is a priority audience for the Time to Change campaign, and having undertaken some initial work we were keen to secure more resources to pilot new approaches and scale up effective existing projects but with a more tailored focus on this specific audience.

A funding boost from the Big Lottery Fund will allow us to develop a new strand of our programme with an integrated range of projects co-produced and delivered with the African and Caribbean community. Across all of this work we will be supporting and training more African and Caribbean people with mental health problems to deliver activity and lead change within communities.

There will be a tailored social marketing campaign designed with people from the community to ensure it resonates and has the desired impact. We plan to work with African and Caribbean community partners to run a series of events across the country that bring audiences with and without mental health problems into direct social contact. This is an effective evidence-based approach to improving public attitudes..

Some of these events will follow a similar model to the Stereo-Hype event which was a partnership with an East London mental health service provider, and community group called Mellow. The two day festival celebrated the strengths and achievements of African and Caribbean people living with mental health problems. Through its mix of music, film, drama and comedy it attracted 600 visitors, many of whom may not normally engage with the subject of mental health but who, through attending the event, learnt more about how mental health problems can affect members of their community and how to support someone experiencing a mental illness.

We also hope to be able to build on a recent roundtable discussion with leaders and senior members of Black Majority Churches who were keen to support a new campaign.

The Big Lottery Funding will also allow us to pilot a very new unique project to research, test and evaluate an intervention aimed at improving the attitudes and behaviour of 900 staff responding to young African Caribbean men using services in one location. Key factors for success will be to recruit and support 300 young African and Caribbean men with experience of mental health problems to help design and deliver activity. We also hope that as well as benefiting from the project, the engagement of staff from primary care, mental health services and the police will enable us to use their insights when designing the activity..

Evaluation of all projects will aim to evidence the impact as well as provide wider learning for future work. With our existing programme funding from the Department of Health and Comic Relief we have commissioned a new national survey to measure the levels of discrimination experienced by people from Black and Minority Ethnic communities using mental health services across England. This will be the largest survey of its kind, and will also provide valuable data and information to guide our work and that of others. The new grant from the Big Lottery Fund will pay for a follow-up survey in 2015 to measure any changes two years later. By the end of March 2015, we will have reached 495,000 people from the African and Caribbean community.

Our vision is of a society where no one should experience discrimination on the grounds of their mental health and this vital funding will help us to achieve this by developing new partnerships with the African and Caribbean communities. Visit the Time to Change website to find out more about our work with Black and Minority Ethnic groups.

Visit the Big Lottery Fund website to find out more about the grant.