Neglect of black and minority ethnic women exacerbating mental illness in London, says The King's Fund report

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Mental health services in London are neglecting women from black and minority ethnic groups, according to a working paper published today by The King's Fund.

Ethnic Diversity and Mental Health in London: Recent developments says mental health services have been slower to address inequalities than other health sectors and that this is exacerbating the problem of mental illness in the capital. As a result, services are less likely to be accessible to women from black and minority ethnic groups (BME).

The paper found that services were particularly inaccessible to refugees and asylum seekers, which is compounded by the fact that staff are insufficiently equipped to assess the specific needs of these groups. Furthermore, staff are often not aware of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers to health and social care services which influences how they respond to calls for help from these communities.

'People from black and minority ethnic communities tend to shy away from mental health services because of negative experiences they have had in the past. The challenge is to provide accessible and more tailored community based services and convince individuals that the longer they fail to come forward, the worse their conditions could become,' says Dr Frank Keating, one of the authors of the paper.

'Many black and minority ethnic women only receive treatment and support at crisis point. This is usually because of lack of confidence and trust in services and an inadequate knowledge of what is available. It's up to primary care trusts to lead local action to achieve change and tackle the inequalities in mental health.'

Ethnic Diversity and Mental Health in London: Recent developments says race equality in mental health services has been prominent in recent policy developments at a national level, but that, locally, services for black and minority ethnic people with mental health problems are often basic, insensitive and piecemeal. This, it says, can contribute to an increase in alienation and isolation.

It also states that the experience and heritage of specific communities - including refugees, Irish, Asian, Chinese, Jewish, African and Afro-Caribbean people - and the impact of racism and other forms of oppression, need to be acknowledged and better understood. It found that the Irish community - the largest white minority group in London - has marked differences in levels of mental illness compared with other white groups. Compared to any other group, Irish people, and particularly Irish women, have the highest overall psychiatric admission rates, highest rates of admission for depression and alcohol abuse, and significant under-use of statutory community based resources.

Read the report: Ethnic diversity and Mental Health in London: Recent developments

Notes to editors

1. Ethnic Diversity and Mental Health in London: Recent developments, by Frank Keating, David Robertson and Nutan Kotecha, is available from The King's Fund on 020 7307 2591.

2. Ethnic Diversity and Mental Health in London: Recent developments is one of a series of investigations into London's mental health that will inform The King's Fund Mental Health Inquiry. The Inquiry, which will report in November, will assess whether or not mental health services have improved in the capital since the first King's Fund Inquiry was conducted in 1997.

3. The paper brings together evidence from published literature and telephone and face-to-face interviews. The particular aim was to explore new developments, and not to revisit ground that has already been covered. It provides a snapshot of changes that have taken place over the past five years, reflections on the current situation for black and minority ethnic communities in London, and a discussion of the implications for the future.

4. For more information, review copies or interviews with the authors, please contact Daniel Reynolds in the public affairs office on 020 7307 2581 or 07831 554927.