Posted on: 12 March 2021

CNWL is launching a project around the disproportionate representation of patients from Black/African/Caribbean heritage being detained under the Mental Health Act and in crisis care pathways.

The project will be led by the lived experience of patients and carers who are, or care for a person of Black/African/Caribbean heritage who has accessed mental health services.

Get involved with the project

This month the Trust will run focus groups to hear more about people’s experiences of mental healthcare. These focus groups will take place in Brent, Harrow, Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea.

Contact to take part.

Staff are there to listen to you, in a safe space; we know it can be daunting to share your experiences.

Learning from other people’s experiences

To inspire patients and carers to come forward and share their experiences and recommendations, we’re sharing two interviews. We have shared the first interview which was from Damon. In the interview Damon spoke about his own experience accessing mental healthcare and why he got involved with this project. Damon’s story is available here.

Today we are hearing from Abigail, who looks after her mum with mental health difficulties.

This is Abigail’s story

"As someone of Ghanaian descent, this project is something that has, and still continues to, directly affect me, my family and my wider community. I care for my mum who has struggled with mental health for a number of years and uses the services of CNWL.

Mental healthcare has made steps in the right direction over the last few years with more people being able to speak and seek help about their mental health which is a great start.

I’m particularly very pleased to see a more trauma-informed approach to mental illness adopted recently within CNWL. However, there is still a long way to go.

Many people are still not getting the mental health support that they need and this has become even worse in this current Covid-19 pandemic. This particularly affects Black communities where we are at greater risk of dying from the virus and stigma surrounding mental health is still a huge issue. In many African cultures for example, there isn’t even the language to describe mental illness and people are just labelled as “mad”. Coupled with structural racism, it is difficult for Black people to seek help because there isn’t any service that caters to our needs culturally.

There is a fear amongst Black people of being treated more harshly by professionals due to racial bias and inaccurate preconceived stereotypes that are still upheld about Black people such as being inherently more dangerous, paranoid and aggressive. The current system within which healthcare staff operate is one which doesn’t adequately help or understand Black communities so it can be difficult for healthcare staff to even understand and empathise with some of the problems and barriers Black people face. 

Many times, my mum's experiences have been pathologised rather than looked at within the context of the many traumas that she has been subjected to in her life which includes racism, discrimination, and domestic violence. This isn’t just unique to my mum; it seems to be a recurring issue particularly affecting people of African/Caribbean origins more so than any other group.

This project, I feel, has been long overdue and I am looking forward to helping address this issue and helping to effect real change.

I would like to see more alternative support being offered to Black people such as talking therapies or a safe space where a community of Black patients and/or the people that care for them can share their lived experiences."

To be open about personal experiences is difficult, but also brave and admirable, so a sincere and heartfelt thank you to Abigail and Damon for sharing their stories and inspiring patients and carers to come forward to take part in this important project.

If you need more information on how to take part in the upcoming focus groups see this poster here.