Activists have called for a reform of “discriminatory” mental health diagnosis techniques after a major audit of race inequality indicated that black and mixed race women are more likely to suffer from mental health issues.
In the initial findings of the audit, launched by the government on Tuesday, data suggested significantly higher levels of “common mental disorders” among women from some ethnic groups.
But race equality campaigners allege that this is down to discrimination, pointing at the subjective nature of mental health diagnosis as the reason why certain ethnic groups are labelled with conditions more frequently than others.
“The diagnostic tool itself is discriminatory,” said Matilda MacAttram, director of campaign group Black Mental Health UK.
“The way you are diagnosed with mental health disorders is dependent on what they [doctors] see. When it comes to ethnicity, this can lead to inequality and injustices.
“It’s not treating the need, it’s treating what is perceived.”
According to the 2014 NHS survey - where assessments were based on participants’ responses - 29.3% of black women in England had experienced a common mental disorder in the past week, alongside 28.7% of women from mixed ethnicity backgrounds.
In comparison, just 20.9% of White British and 15.6% of “white, other” women were labelled in the same way.
While there was little variation between men of different ethnicities, other studies have found a similar pattern across the genders.
According to MacAttram, differences in diagnosis is a “gateway to injustice” for black people.
“It leads to not only a poorer quality of life, but shorter life experience,” she said, claiming that current diagnostic tools had been “deeply damaging to three generations of Britons”.
“We know that those from African Caribbean communities are more likely to be given higher doses of medication, are more likely to be restrained and are more likely to have a lower life expectancy,” she said.
“When you’re on high levels of anti-psychotics, they do other things to your body.
“If we are to uphold and protect the human rights of those in this country, that is viewed globally to be the home of human rights and social justice, reforming the diagnostic tool has to be at the heart of it.”
Black Mental Health UK’s calls come less than a week after Theresa May vowed to tackle “injustice and stigma” associated with mental health.
Calling for an independent review of the Mental Health Act in her Conservative Party conference speech.
The prime minister said: “Detention rates under the Mental Health Act are too high.
“And it is people from black and minority ethnic populations who are affected the most.”