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Risk of psychosis 'five times more likely for BAME people'

Photo credit: Black Doctor

PEOPLE FROM ethnic minorities have up to a five times’ greater risk of psychotic disorders than the white British population, according to new research.

The research, called Social Epidemiology of Psychoses in East Anglia (SEPEA), revealed that black people of Caribbean origin have a 4.6 times greater risk of developing psychotic disorders than the white population.

Individuals of Pakistani or black African origins, or of mixed ethnic backgrounds had risks 2.3 times, 4.1 times, and 1.7 times higher respectively.

According to the study, first-generation migrants, especially those who moved to Britain between the ages of five and 12, are particularly vulnerable to psychosis. The study was conducted to assess the vulnerability of black people to mental illness within both rural and urban environments.

The research also revealed that these trends hold in both urban and rural settings, with first-generation migrants who arrive in the UK in childhood among those at increased risk.

The team behind the study says a number of factors could be at play, including stresses related to the migration process, discrimination and issues related to isolation and integration.

James Kirkbride, a psychi- atric epidemiologist from University College London and co-author of the research, and colleagues from the University of Cambridge and a collection of NHS foundation trusts examined trends among 687 people in the east of England.

The people involved in the study were aged between 16 and 35 years of age, and had received a clinical diagnosis of a psychotic disorder for the first time.

Kirkbride believes there needs to be changes to Britain’s mental health institutions. He also felt there needs to be a two-pronged approach in tackling the issue.

Speaking to The Voice, he said: “To tackle this problem we need to put in place clinical services which are culturally appropriate.

“But we also need to identify the risk factors that are contributing to mental health problems, which could be the stresses related to the migration process, discrimination and issues related to isolation and integration.

“If this was any other disorder we would be horrified and up in arms, and we would be campaigning from a public health perspective on how we could reduce this level of suf- fering,” he said.

“There is a massive health inequality and it hasn’t got much attention.”
Rhiannon Corcoran, a professor of psychology at the University of Liverpool, welcomed the study’s findings. She said: “They open up all sorts of possibilities for policy interventions aimed at making our communities more psy- chologically benign.”

However, a leading human rights organisation is campaigning for a wholesale reform of how black people are assessed and treated for mental illness in light of the findings. Matilda MacAttram, director at Black Mental Health (BMH) UK, believes that the research is racist and has the potential to be deeply damaging for black Britain.

Speaking to The Voice, MacAttram said: “An established body of evidence shows that the diagnostic tools used in psychiatry are discriminatory, and that black skinned melanated people of African
descent are being pathologised and labelled with psychotic disorders that they just don’t have.

“The way people are assessed and mental health services in general are inherently racist and have proved deeply damaging for three generations of people from Britain’s black communities.”

The BMH UK director believes that the Conservative party should live up to its commitment of reforming mental health legislation by providing resources to black-led community support services, if it remains in power following the fallout from last week’s General Election.

She added: “There needs to be a more humane pyschosocial model of care, based on therapy, humanity and com- passion where coercion has no place.”

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