Evidence shows that people with severe mental illness die younger and this is often the result of their physical health. They are at increased risk of multiple long-term conditions and have higher incidence of several conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
It is known that men of African Caribbean origin are at greater risk of getting a severe mental illness including schizophrenia and affective psychoses. There is limited evidence investigating ethnic inequalities in physical health conditions among people with severe mental illness, although in 2022 a study found Black African, Black Caribbean, and Black British people with psychosis have around 1.5 higher odds of multimorbidity and twice the odds for severe multimorbidity, which is psychosis and three physical health conditions.
The value of small and medium-sized voluntary organisations is unquantifiable, they play a critical role in supporting their local communities, fill the gaps in public services, promote inclusion and belonging, advocate for fairer policies, uplift the voices of those seldom listened to, create safe spaces, build trusted relationships, develop evidence-based better practice and offer person-centred care. So when we join to build networks spanning across England, the collective effort for more equal and just public service delivery is magnified.
Through a project focussing on physical health checks for people with severe mental illness from African and Caribbean backgrounds, the Race Equality Foundation partnered with Sheffield African Caribbean Mental Health Association. This meant we had the pleasure of collaborating with Gambinga, a Community Mental Health Officer and someone with lived experience of severe mental illness. Not only does this partnership provide the opportunity to learn a huge amount, where possible we also aim to promote Gambinga and the work he does. So when we were presented with the chance to put him in contact with the BBC, we seized it.
Gambinga is featured in a BBC Newsbeat segment, and described his experiences and that of many other Black men; which are experiences that must be heard. The inequalities which exist for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, but particularly for Black men, exist throughout the mental healthcare pathway, from access to outcomes. It is known that African and Caribbean communities are more likely to access mental health services via the criminal justice system and are overrepresented in psychiatric and secure mental health hospitals. Sadly, factors which lead to mental ill health, such as socioeconomic status, unemployment, housing, racism and discrimination, and social exclusion, are disproportionately felt by Black communities. With racism, economic and social disadvantage being identified as root causes of increased risk of psychotic illness among Black people.
Drawing attention to these inequalities is necessary at every possibility. Which is why we also utilised the opportunity to put the BBC in contact with Heather Nelson, the CEO of Black Health Initiative, a community engagement organisation working towards equality of access to health and social care. An organisation the Race Equality Foundation has worked with for many years. Heather rightly stressed the need to have representation around the decision making table, to ensure the right voices are being listened to.
These strong networks are fundamental to advancing racial equality in mental healthcare, and across all public services. Our voices are louder when we work together.
Further reading and sources