View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Long reads
11 October 2007

Big, black and dangerous?

Institutionalised racism is widespread in the mental health service, yet the government refuses to f

By Tom Marchbanks

When a dispute over a telephone call turned racist, it set off a chain of events which led to David “Rocky” Bennett’s death. Soaked in his own urine, he died less than two hours later in a struggle with four psychiatric nurses.

David’s undignified death, in the hands of his carers, took place after an argument with a fellow inpatient at The Norvic Clinic. It is one of 22 black male deaths in psychiatric custody over the last 29 years.

For many, David’s story draws an uncomfortable parallel with that of Stephen Lawrence’s. Like Stephen’s, his death led to an independent inquiry, which found institutionalised racism widespread in the mental health service.

It is an accusation of tremendous consequence for the black community who, as in criminal justice system, are over represented in the mental health system. A 2006 census on admissions to mental health institutes found that Black Caribbean or African groups are three or more times likely to be incarcerated, rising to 18 times the average for the group, “other black men”.

Since the David Bennett Inquiry published its findings in 2003, campaigners insist little has been done. Harmet Athwal of the Institute of Race Relations believes “there is still a fear and stereotype associated with the black man which leads to the continued institutional racism in the mental health service.”

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

The racism manifests itself – according to Professor Suman Fernando – in the diagnosis and risk assessments of black patients. Generally they are seen as primitive or troublesome, given high doses of medication and more likely to be set upon by staff. It is this unnecessary use of force, he says: “That is often a cause of death.”

The Department of Health admits there is a problem. “Black and minority ethnic patients are more likely to experience compulsory psychiatric treatment, to be diagnosed as violent and detained in secure Mental Health Units, less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment at an early stage, and less likely to receive psychotherapy and counselling, ” a spokeswoman said.

Despite this startling assessment, the government denies it is a result of racism. “We just don’t believe that institutional racism is a helpful label to apply – the solutions lie in the hands of individuals, not just institutions.”

It is a heads in the sand response; one that seems to delegate responsibility, rather than admit to what Professor Fernando describes as a “paternalistic, old fashioned and condescending“, system of mental health treatment.

In 2005, the government set up the Delivering Race Equality strategy to ensure parity in mental care and as a response to the Bennett Inquiry. Seen largely as simply throwing money at the problem, Matilda MacAttram, Director of Black Mental Health UK says “it has had absolutely no impact in improving the ethnic inequalities in inpatient care.” “The whole situation is a crisis,” MacAttram adds “one that hits a small community already disadvantaged, doubly hard.”

This week’s World Mental Health Day focuses on ‘Mental health in a changing world: the impact of culture and diversity’.

Content from our partners
Unlocking the potential of a national asset, St Pancras International
Time for Labour to turn the tide on children’s health
How can we deliver better rail journeys for customers?

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU