POOR RESEARCH OR AN ATTACK ON BLACK PEOPLE?
Letter from mental health campaigners on the alleged ‘epidemic’ of schizophrenia among British African Caribbean groups…
“A report of a high rate of ‘schizophrenia’ being diagnosed among British African Caribbeans is nothing new, but conclusions about an ‘epidemic’ (Causes for controversy, SocietyGuardian, 9 December 2009) are worrying. First, ‘research’ such as the Aesop study is fundamentally flawed because it uses narrow interpretations of what diagnostic categories represent. Second, the word ‘epidemic’, implying that black people’s ‘schizophrenia’ may adversely affect others, is indicative of a racist undertone in what the researchers are saying.
Figures such as those quoted have been around for over 25 years; the real issue is what causes these differential rates of diagnosis. Is it a reflection of the true incidence of ‘mental illness’, or is it due to a range of other factors, including medicalisation of social problems and institutional racism?
‘Schizophrenia’ makes good headlines, but more people from African Caribbean groups suffer from anxiety and depression; moreover, the diagnosis of ‘schizophrenia’ itself is problematic and widely questioned as a valid category for specifying mental health problems.
The way in which this ‘finding’ about diagnostic patterns has been reported stigmatises and pathologises African Caribbean communities as being inherently flawed in some way that generates ‘mental illness’ – a throwback to the discredited Moynihan report in the US, which stated in 1965 that the African American family was a ‘tangle of pathology’. There is plenty of evidence on the nature and extent of institutional discrimination and racism in the British mental health system. Failing to recognise this and, even more seriously, singling out groups and blaming their lifestyle or culture is the thin end of a socially divisive wedge. If ‘social engineering’ is being called for, it may be more effective to apply it to mental health services and service providers, not to communities.
Paul Corry is right in asking for ‘joined-up’, nationally-driven strategies focused on race and culture. In an economic slump, hard-pressed communities suffer most. This is the time to be investing in mental health, focusing specifically on disadvantaged groups and facing up to redressing racial inequalities.”
Peter Ferns, independent training consultant, Ferns Associates
Prof Phil Barker, honorary professor in the faculty of medicine, dentistry and nursing, University of Dundee
Prof Peter Beresford, Brunel University and Shaping Our Lives
Peter Scott Blackman, former CEO, Afiya Trust
Pat Bracken, consultant psychiatrist
Yvonne Christie, independent development consultant for change
David Crepaz-Keay, head of patient and public involvement, Mental Health Foundation
Suman Fernando, honorary senior lecturer in mental health, European Centre for Migration and Social Care, University of Kent
Prof John Gabriel, head of department, applied social Sciences, London Metropolitan University
William Lez Henry, visiting research fellow, Goldsmiths College, University of London
Jayasree Kalathil, research consultant, Survivor Research, User-led Perspectives in Mental Health
Frank Keating, senior lecturer in health and social care, Royal Holloway, London University of London
Paul Moore, advocacy manager, Mind in Barnet
Jeanette Stanley, director, African & Caribbean Mental Health Services, Manchester
Derek Summerfield, consultant psychiatrist, South London & Maudsley NHS Trust
Sami Timimi, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Lincolnshire Partnership Foundation NHS Trust
Patrick Vernon, CEO Afiya Trust
Marcel Vige, manager, Diverse Minds, Mind
Pauline Clear (primary care mental health team manager), Sirlena Thompson (advocacy worker and Trafford carers’ co-ordinator), Stella Gradwell (social work student), Carmen Martin (mental health practitioner), Anthony Kollie (community development worker), African & Caribbean Mental Health Service, Manchester