by Renée Lee, Second Year Psychology Student and Professor Patricia Riddell, Director of WIDE
Within the field of Psychology, multiple students wish to progress into the clinical roles. Therefore, it is important for them to know about how the BAME community is treated in the medical health field. There are myths about BAME individuals that are important to address since they can consciously or subconsciously affect the way healthcare professionals provide care.
You may or may not already be aware that there is discrimination within the mental health sector of our NHS. According to government statistics (“Treatment for mental or emotional problems”, 2017), black individuals tend to experience worse mental health than white people, however, the latter are more than twice as likely to receive treatment for these problems. In addition to this, when mental health treatment is provided healthcare, it is often implemented through the criminal justice system. Further to this, 40% of black people are given compulsory treatment and drug therapy rather than receiving psychological talking therapies which are more commonly provided to white people. Moreover, black people are four times more likely to be arrested under the Mental Health Act in comparison to white people. It can, therefore, be argued that black people are treated more harshly than white people even before receiving any therapy sessions (“Discrimination in mental health services”, 2019).
The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2018) in the UK also acknowledged that Black British individuals have more mental health conditions. This is results from greater incidence of poverty, homelessness, poorer educational outcomes, higher unemployment and greater contact with the criminal justice system in BAME communities than White communities (National Institute for Mental Health in England, 2003). This increases stress and has a negative impact on mental health (Bhui, Nazroo, Francis et al (2018). These differences can also result in culturally inappropriate treatment of BAME patients by healthcare professionals.
There is evidence that the BAME community, and particularly black men, do not always want to seek professional help partly as a result of cultural mistrust and clinician bias (Hankerson, Suite and Bailey (2015); Memon, Taylor, Mohebati et al, 2016). This is sometimes a result of stigma, lack of knowledge of resources available, or a lack of sensitivity of healthcare professionals to cultural sensitivities. One further reason that this mistrust exists is that, in some parts of the world, healthcare professionals have chosen to experiment on particular racial groups (for example, in the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Male Negro”). This practice is still in evidence today, for example, when French doctors insisted that COVID-19 trials and testing should take place in Africa due to the lower number of cases there. This led to outrage among the black community who pointed out that they are “not human guinea pigs” (“Coronavirus: France racism row over doctors’ Africa testing comments”, 2020).
Moreover, there are biases that relate specifically to the Black community that may affect the care that healthcare professionals provide. A common example is that clinicians have sometimes been found to underestimate the cognitive abilities of Black people as a result of stereotyping (Hankerson et al, 2015). Another example involves the idea of the “strong, independent black woman”. If healthcare professionals view black women as strong all of the time, then there is a possibility that they will be incorrectly diagnosed correctly and/or provided with inappropriate treatment.
Overall, this information provides evidence of the ways in which black people are discriminated against in the mental health sector. Whether it be access to treatment, diagnoses or the treatment prescribed, the BAME community are not always treated the same as the white community. The future generation of healthcare professionals need to realise how important it is to dispel biases both individually and as a community in order to provide effective treatment for all. No-one should be denied the best and most appropriate access to healthcare on the basis of their race or the colour of their skin.
Links to read more about the topics discussed above
- National Institute for Mental Health in England. (2003). Inside Outside: Improving Mental Health Services for Black and Minority Ethnic Communities in England, London, Department of Health. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/b/black-asian-and-minority-ethnic-bame-communities
- Bhui K., Nazroo J., Francis J. et al. (2018) The impact of racism on mental health. Available at: https://synergicollaborativecentre.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/The-impact-of-racism-on-mental-health-briefing-paper-1.pdf
- Coronavirus: France racism row over doctors’ Africa testing comments. (2020). Retrieved 5 October 2020, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-52151722
- Discrimination in mental health services. (2019). Retrieved 5 October 2020, from https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/legal-news/legal-newsletter-june-2019/discrimination-in-mental-health-services/
- Hankerson, S.H., Suite, D., & Bailey, R.K. (2015). Treatment Disparities among African American Men with Depression: Implications for Clinical Practice. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 26(1), 21-34. Doi:10.1353/hpu.2015.0012.
- Memon, A., Taylor, K., Mohebati, L. et al (2016) Perceived barriers to accessing mental health services among black and minority eethinc (BME) communities: A qualitative study in Southeast England. BMJ Open, 6:e012337. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012337 https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/11/e012337.info
- Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2018). Position Statement. Royal College of Psychiatrists. Retrieved from https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/PS01_18a.pdf
- Treatment for mental or emotional problems. (2017). Retrieved 5 October 2020, from https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/health/mental-health/adults-receiving-treatment-for-mental-or-emotional-problems/latest