The mental health care that people from black and minority ethnic communities receive is a ‘disgrace’, according to a seminal inquiry report. But is race equality training really the answer?
The government’s five-year action plan, Delivering Race Equality in Mental Health Care, calls for more responsive services “delivered by a more culturally capable workforce” and for training in “cultural sensitivity” for all those involved in planning or delivering services. But some mental health professionals question how much such training will improve care. “I think we’re in danger of concluding that only minority ethnic communities have a culture,” says Dinesh Bhugra, professor of mental health and cultural diversity at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London. “But culture in Camberwell is quite different from [that in] Islington.”
Bhugra, who is dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and has carried out research in cross-cultural psychiatry, runs courses for medical students and trainee psychiatrists in cultural awareness. But he stresses that service patterns also need to be considered. “Good clinical care means we must be fully aware of the norms in the populations we serve,” he says. “But that, on its own, will not overcome the problems many people have in accessing services in their present form.”
Services need to be planned in ways that make it easier for people to access them. “Emotional access can be a big barrier,” Bhugra warns. “Our research among Punjabi women in Southall [west London] showed they wanted help to overcome depression, but the stigma of the illness made it difficult for them to seek support. It would be far easier if we took our services to temples and mosques.”
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