The Mental Health Act of 1983 is in the process of being changed by the UK Government after over 35 years. This process allows people and organisations to contribute to what will be put in place for the future Mental Health Act. The deadline to make these changes is fast approaching with the government asking contributions to be made before 21st April 2021.
Many of the mainstream mental health organisations do not appear to have made any significant efforts as of yet to contribute to this act. This is very concerning as many experts say the Mental Health Act overhaul will not tackle racial disparities without societal change.
The previous Mental Health Act of 1983 has been promoted to be reformed to help ‘tackle racial disparity and lower rates of detention and community treatment orders among Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups will be futile without systemic, societal change, experts have warned.’ And because ‘Black people are over four times more likely than white people to be detained under the act and over 10 times more likely to be subject to a community treatment order (CTO) – under which people are discharged from detention but placed under conditions on their lives and treatment,’ stated in an article by Charlotte Carter on Community Care.
With many of the mainstream organisations not shedding a big enough light on this topic many other smaller organisations have stepped in to promote the message. One of those is a social enterprise organisation called BAME Mental Health Support (BMHS) who is a leading voice in helping to build better communication with minority ethnic communities in a more delicate and sensitive manner in local languages. BMHS specialise in tackling mental health inequalities for BAME groups as well as offer training for other organisations.
BMHS are desperately trying to spread the message in getting others to contribute to the reformation of the Mental Health Act and are encouraging every organisation working with ethnic minorities to consider contributing to these landmark changes and address the structural discrimination inherent in the Mental Health Act 1983.
Their efforts don’t stop there, BMHS is also changing the way the vaccine is promoted amongst minority groups in the UK. Many of these groups are turning away from having the COVID-19 vaccine as they are often misinformed, wary of the establishment and want more information about the vaccine from sources they trust.
Many of the volunteers from BMHS are from minority ethnic communities themselves meaning they are able to understand people similar to them on a deeper and more personal level, helping them solve issues around health inequality, mental health, and now the vaccine.
Volunteers at BMHS normally focus on mental health equality by offering a help phone line and translating mental health information for communities. It has been a leading voice in ensuring community members register with local GP and also ensure they disclose their ailments to their GP and not just resort to silence, culture and religion. But since COVID-19, it demonstrated to them the issues that minority ethnic communities face with handling their health and more specifically the lack of ethnic people who are registered to a GP, sadly some are living with undiagnosed underlying health conditions.
‘The non-registration at the GP by some community members we spoke to had to do with language barriers, cultural barriers and misconception that it may be an easy route to be deported, especially amongst undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers,’ says Alfred Oyekoya, director of BMHS
Alfred Oyekoya saw the health inequalities in his community, and he knew that many of the BAME community members do not go to the GP or even have health records on file and he is continuing to strive for that to change.
Alfred has said from his own experience and understanding that communication gaps has created more withdrawal from the ethnic minority whenever government guidelines are disseminated, consequently, making BMHS, a driving force behind better communication. This kind of example is just one of the inspirations behind BMHS
Alfred also stated that some families in minority ethnic communities (especially refugee and asylum seekers) gets separated due to language barriers and misunderstanding during incidents that would have been otherwise managed amicably but led to social service interventions and children taken away temporary and, in some cases, permanently from their parents.
The BMHS team is a group of over 25 volunteers who are working, training, and helping many minority groups understand health and mental health – their team knows exactly how to approach these people in a better way which is more effective and communicative. From the testimonials and positive personal stories gathered, it is no doubt what they are doing is proving to be very effective and majorly appreciated amongst these groups.
The BMHS social enterprise doesn’t stop there, they have an helpline from 12noon to midnight providing mental health advice to minority ethnic communities which is free of charge. They also provide food parcels to BAME international students who are struggling throughout the pandemic, BMHS found that during the pandemic, students were calling the helpline about how hungry they were. These international students are having financial difficulties and can’t afford to eat as they pay hefty tuition fees and expected to find part time work from their permitted work visas but because of COVID-19 this is very challenging -This
The project is supported by Swansea Council Food Poverty Funding. Swansea Council has set a great example for other local councils in the UK.