Mental health care 'fails ethnic minorities'

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The quality of mental health care which people from ethnic minorities receive is "incomplete and inconsistent", according to a new report by a leading charity.

There are "worrying differences" between the way in which white people and those from ethnic minorities receive health care, the Mental Health Foundation said yesterday.

Compared with white people, African-Caribbeans are more likely to be admitted to psychiatric hospital following contact with the police and social services and less likely to be referred by their general practitioner; they are also more likely to be detained by the police under the Mental Health Act.

They are more likely to be admitted compulsorily to hospital under the Mental Health Act, diagnosed as violent and detained in locked wards, secure units and special hospitals.

"In summary, there is overwhelming evidence that African-Caribbean people are subject to greater coercive control by both the psychiatric and criminal justice systems," Dr Veena Soni Raleigh, author of the report, said. "It is widely believed that community and primary health-care services often fail to provide African-Caribbean people with the preventive and supportive care needed at an early stage to prevent the development of a crisis in mental health."

Findings show that schizophrenia is diagnosed three to six times more often in African-Caribbeans than in white people. In general, however, rates of minor psychiatric disorders such as neuroses, depression, drug and alcohol abuse are lower in black people, as are rates of suicide and attempted suicide.

Asian people were also found to have lower rates of mental illness overall than the white population, although they had a higher rate of schizophrenia.

A reason given for this was that the Asian community has genuinely low rates of mental illness, because of its strong family support system. But there is also a reluctance to approach mental health services, either through language difficulties or through fear of stigma.

It is possible that GPs are failing to detect mental health problems. The suicide rate for young Asian women aged 15 to 24 was more than double the national rate and it was 60 per cent higher in women 25 to 34.

The Mental Health Foundation is calling for urgent action to improve mental health services from people from ethnic communities, setting out its recommendations in an eight-point plan which will be delivered to the Department of Health.

It proposes that black and minority ethnic people should be more involved in planning services and treatments; better communication between service purchasers and black and minority ethnic voluntary agencies and better training on race and cultural awareness for those working in mental health.

June McKerrow, the foundation's director, said: "It is clear that social services and health agencies are failing black and minority ethnic people. It is time to make improvements in service provision now so that these communities receive care and treatment which recognises their cultural differences and meets their needs."