If we can take one positive from this past year, it’s the renewed interest placed on mental wellbeing. From new mental health apps gaining traction, to elite sportswomen standing up for their own wellbeing, the importance placed on mental health is at an all-time high.

That said, there has also been worrying research highlighting failings in the way we approach mental health support for some members of our society. Studies and surveys show that Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) individuals are being left behind, despite the varied discussions around – and importance placed on – mental wellbeing for all.

Worrying statistics showcase mental health failings

Research by serious injury lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp found that therapy recovery rates for racialised minorities have only increased incrementally since 2016 – by only 6% over the past 5 years.

Their research used the NHS Mental Health Dashboard – a system that brings together key data from across the NHS, helping the government track their progress towards ensuring funding for mental health services grows faster than the overall NHS budget. They also found that there’s been little improvement in the proportion of Black and Asian individuals detained under the Mental Health Act – it’s remained at 30% from 2016 to 2021.

Mental health charity Mind found that African and Caribbean men had a significantly higher likelihood of developing mental health problems during their adult lives, despite having lower levels of mental health problems at age 11 compared to their White or Mixed Heritage peers.

Additionally, they found that the prevalence of symptoms relating to psychosis is higher in Black men (3.2%) and Asian men (1.3%) compared to White men (0.3%), based on combined 2007 and 2014 data. And, that young Black men are around 11 times as likely as young White men to be diagnosed with major psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, and around three times more likely to present with suicide risk.

Young Black and Asian people are disproportionately affected too

A report by Kooth, the longest established digital mental health provider in the UK, found troubling figures on the effect Covid-19 and lockdown had on racialised minority youth compared to their White peers, including:

  • Suicidal thoughts and depression increasing by 27% and 9.2% respectively.
  • Self-harm concerns going up by 30%, while anxiety and stress saw an 11.5% increase.
  • Sleep difficulties rising by more than 200%.
  • A 159% increase in concerns over school and college.

Why mental wellbeing for racialised minorities is lower than their peers

Experts have suggested some potential reasons for these statistics above. One is that, while there was plenty of information stating that Black and Brown individuals were more at risk of dying from Covid-19, this information wasn’t followed with preventative measures to reduce this risk – nor explanations of why they were more at risk in the first place.

Minoritised communities may also collectively deal with a greater level of racism, discrimination, social and economic inequality, mental health stigma and other issues than white communities. Each of these can contribute to the worsening of mental health for minoritised individuals, particularly if they feel they have no access to proper support.

Health professionals need to do more for Black mental wellbeing

Its been suggested that Black and Asian individuals may not be getting the same level of primary care than their white counterparts. This could be a combination of racialised minorities being reluctant to seek help for fear of being stigmatised for having a mental health issue, or not recognising they have a mental illness in the first place. They may not know where help is available, how to access it, or have the financial means to get private counselling.

Of course, the issue doesn’t stop at mental health support. There are countless other areas related to health where Blacks and Asians are disadvantaged. A 2021 report by MMBRACE-UK revealed that Black women are four times more likely than White women to die in childbirth in the UK – with Asian women twice as likely to die compared to White women.

Between March and April 2020, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that Black males and females are respectively 4.2 times and 4.3 times more likely to die from a COVID-19-related death than White males and females. People from ethnic minorities are also less likely to intend to vaccinate, with historical mistrust of government and the public health services being a major contributing factor.

This distrust could also be why some racialised minorities may not seek help for their mental health, nor feel listened to or understood by formal health services. In fact, researchers have suggested that doctors may perceive the mental health problems of Black and Asian individuals as normal or unsuitable for professional treatment. Some doctors may not understand how the experiences of racism of racialised minorities played a part in their mental illness.

A call for the government and other parties to prioritise Black mental health

There’s no quick fix for solving the way we approach mental health for racialised minorities. A systemic, government-wide effort is needed, alongside effective community outreach to account for the various social factors that can impact the mental health of Black and brown people. As they focus on investing at least £2.3 billion a year in mental health by 2023/24, the government must also focus on the problem areas identified above and spend in a way that’s effective in the long run.

In April 2020 the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), launched a Consortia – the Coronavirus Mental Health Response Fund for England. Administered by Mind on behalf of the Mental Health Consortia, voluntary and community sector organisations were able to apply for grants of up to £50,000 to deliver work for up to 12 months.

The consortia of national mental health charities were all white-led and initially lacked any race equality input.

To combat this lack of reach, the charity Voice 4 Change England, a BAME led national infrastructure organisation was asked to distribute £400,000 of the £5million funding on offer.

This outreach needs to be supported at the community level, helping de-stigmatise mental illness and raise awareness of all the avenues available for racialised minorities to seek support. This includes providing information about organisations such as the Black, African and Asian Therapy Network, the Black Minds Matter group, British Asian Trust and South Asian Health Action.

It is only with a concerted, joint and considered effort – and serious commitment – that we can turn the troubling statistics above, on their heads and finally provide the support and help that will truly make a difference to the mental health of racialised minorities.


Article written by Hasna Haidar