Ethnic minority children and adults are continuing to be failed by mental health services, according to leaked NHS data that shows higher rates of detention and lower access to community care during the pandemic, The Independent can reveal.
A leaked NHS report into the use of mental health services by minority ethnic and white patients in 2021 shows that Black and mixed-raced children accounted for 36 per cent of young people detained in the highest-level units, despite representing just 11 per cent of the population.
The figures, seen by The Independent, suggest that children from Black backgrounds also have lower levels of access to support services, with these children making up only 5 per cent of general CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) lists and just one per cent of those accessing community eating disorder services.
One young man, called Luke Joshua, told The Independent of his two-year struggle to access mental health services from the age of 13, saying that he wouldn’t wish the experience on his worst enemy.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists and leading charity YoungMinds have urged the government to take action over services that are “failing” ethnic minority communities.
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, the shadow cabinet minister for mental health, told The Independent: “It’s deeply concerning that there has been no attempt to eradicate this startling health inequality and ensure that there is equal access to treatment in the community for everyone who needs it.”
Dr Allin-Khan added that there had been “warm words” from the government, but not action to tackle racial disparities in mental health services, claiming: “They simply do not care.”
The report, carried out by NHS Benchmarking, also shows that rates of admission to mental health inpatient units were disproportionately high for adults from ethnic minority backgrounds.
While Black, Asian and mixed-race adults account for 15 per cent of the population, they represented 24 per cent of inpatient detentions and 13 per cent of community care lists in 2021, according to the figures.
The data shows that Black, Asian and mixed people were overrepresented in admissions to units for the most acutely unwell people. Black people accounted for 21 per cent of medium secure unit admissions, and 17 per cent of psychiatric intensive care unit admissions, for example.
Data from leaked NHS Benchmarking reports from 2019, showing similar or higher rates of admission for Black children and adults, indicates that there has been little progress to address inequalities, despite NHS and government promises to take action.
Tom Madders, director of communications and campaigns at YoungMinds, said: “It’s completely wrong that Black young people and those from minoritised ethnicities are more likely to be hospitalised for their mental health than white young people, while being less likely to receive support in their communities.”
He said YoungMinds consistently hears that these young people are not receiving the support they should until they’re in crisis, and that the leaked NHS data appears to support this.
He added that young people from minority ethnic communities are less likely to feel that the NHS is a safe space, having faced discrimination from statutory services.
YoungMinds is urging the government to introduce a network of early support hubs to enable young people to access mental health support in their communities. “The evidence is clear that Black and minoritised young people are more likely to be reached through these kinds of services,” said Mr Madders, adding: “It is clear that existing services are failing Black young people and those from minoritised ethnicities, and it is crucial that this is addressed in the government’s forthcoming mental health plan.”
Dr Lade Smith, presidential lead for race equality at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “This data shows how people from ethnic minority backgrounds continue to be let down by mental health services.
“Black people are overrepresented in locked and secure units, but are far less likely to access community mental health care or receive treatment for substance use disorders.
“Missing out on early treatment can cause more severe illness in the future and can have devastating consequences. We cannot afford to let this go on any longer.”
Dr Smith urged parliament to “strengthen” the Health and Care Bill to ensure it drives action to improve access, experiences and outcomes for all minority groups, particularly people from Black backgrounds.
‘A ridiculous mess’
Speaking to The Independent, Luke, a young man from a Caribbean background, described how he had been forced to wait two years for care in the community after his mental health had suffered due to bullying and racism at school.
He was referred at the age of 13, but did not receive consistent therapy until he was 15. Within these two years, Luke says, he was passed from counsellor to counsellor, and each time found himself “put back at the end of the waiting list for another six months”.
He said: “I was actually worse during that process ... with all of their messing about, [while] not being able to actually get to school, and I didn’t know what was happening at that time as well.
“I think a whole lot of emotional distress could have been saved from getting the support early when I needed it ... It was a ridiculous mess. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We know that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting specific groups, including Black and Asian communities. This is why we have created a new body to tackle health disparities in all their forms, and work is ongoing at both national and local levels to tackle mental health inequalities and level up the health of the nation.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS is committed to addressing health inequalities as it continues to roll out mental health services to an additional 2 million people by 2023/24, backed by £2.3bn in extra funding, including through 24/7 teams in A&E and urgent helplines.
“Local areas are already piloting specific areas of work to tackle inequalities, and working directly with ethnically diverse groups so that their experiences and feedback can shape and improve services.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies