in Bradford is leading the way in providing community mental health
services for black and ethnic minority people. Adam
was in 1998 that psychiatric patient David Bennett died after being
pinned down by nurses in a clinic in Norwich, sparking an inquiry
into racial discrimination in NHS mental health services
Seven years later, when speaking to Jeffrey Dawkin it's hard not
to note some similarities with David Bennett.
Like David Bennett, Dawkin, aged 40, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia,
and has been in and out of psychiatric hospital for more than 10
years. Like David Bennett he is a black Rastafarian and has experienced
compulsory psychiatric detention and treatment.
"I was told that if did not take medication I would be injected,"
remembers Dawkin of one hospital admission. "I was held, my
trousers were pulled down and an injection was applied."
Yet, while David Bennett's life ended in such tragic circumstances
the fortunes of Dawkin, from Bradford, have taken a positive turn.
the last two years his confidence has grown dramatically to the
extent that he has new friends and attends community meetings. For
someone whose previous lonely existence six months ago meant he
could not even summon the courage to walk to the shops on his own,
these are massive steps.
It is cruelly ironic that Dawkin says he has benefited from the
kind of project which the government hopes can help root out institutionalised
racial discrimination in mental health services that, last year,
the inquiry into David Bennett's death identified. Afro-Caribbean
men - such as Dawkin and David Bennett - are between two and eight
times more likely than their white contemporaries to be sectioned
under the Mental Health Act.
Since its launch two years ago, staff at Bradford's Sharing Voices
project have been linking with the city's black and ethnic minority
(BME) community groups in a bid to vitalise a "community development"
approach to mental health. As a result, self-help, creative, and
fitness groups for the city's BME community with mental health problems
have got off the ground.
Importantly, the project's emphasis is less about bringing mainstream
psychiatric interventions into the community, but seeking answers
to people's mental health problems and associated exclusion within
the "untapped expertise" of the community.
Take, for example, Asian muslim women who have been victims of sexual
and physical violence. For them, explains Sharing Voices manager
Salma Yasmeen, spiritual succour can be vital for recovery. You're
more likely to find such support from a mosque than a psychiatric
"They were not asking for latest drug treatments, they were
asking for practical support, for safe places. Issues of employment
are also massive," adds Yasmeen.
Rehana Kosar, 33, is an example of someone who feels the work of
Sharing Voices has enabled her to find a culturally-appropriate
pathway to recovery .
Engulfed by severe depression after the deaths of her baby and father,
Sharing Voices provided Rehana with community contacts to access
the spiritual guidance she yearned for. As well as attending a mutual
support group for Asian women, staff put her in contact with Muslim
scholars. Now working part-time, she has nothing but praise for
"It was not medication or my family that helped me - it was
Sharing Voices," she says.
What is intrinsic to the Sharing Voices team's philosophy is that
severe mental health problems are rooted more in people's experience
than their biology.
This perspective, explains Sharing Voices' chair, psychiatrist Dr
Phil Thomas, has been reinforced during discussions with young Bengali
mental health service users from the city.
"People talk about their distress without the language of psychiatry,"
says Thomas. "They refer to it in terms of racism and what
it's about to be a young Muslim in a society where islamophobia
As part of the government's Delivering Race Equality plan, launched
in January in response to the David Bennett inquiry, funding was
released for 500 extra community development workers around the
country. Their remit is, by 2006, to be in place to link up with
black and ethnic minority community organisations that can act as
partners in working to create less discriminatory, more inclusive,
mental health services.
is exactly what the two Sharing Voices community development workers
claim to have successfully been doing over the last two years. No
surprise, then, that Sharing Voices has been assured that, from
March, monies from this new funding will pay for its two community
development workers to continue their work.
we are doing is not revolutionary and it's not rocket science. It's
about democracy and accountability, and putting power into local
communities," enthuses Thomas.
Thomas hopes that such harnessing resources of support within local
communities might - in the long run - decrease the disproportionate
rate that BME people (who make up 60% of inner city Bradford) are
compulsory detained in psychiatric hospital. This, again, is what
ministers pledged in January to achieve nationally.
"It is difficult to say whether our project has led to less
detentions, and of course the problems of compulsory treatment will
not be vanished away. Community development takes years and is a
long term investment," says Thomas.
Seventeen strategic health authorities (SHAs) were due to have now
submitted to the Department of Health details of new projects which
Health Minister Rosie Winterton wants to act as "hothouses
of reform" in rooting out racial discrimination in mental health
services. The West Yorkshire SHA, which encompasses Sharing Voices,
Moreover, judging from Kosar's and Dawkin's testimony, managers
of other SHAs would have been advised, before submitting, to telephone
their colleagues at Sharing Voices for advice.
"Sharing Voices was a godsend for me," says Dawkin who
now volunteers for the project. "It enabled me to get back
into doing something worthwhile and engage more in the community."
Dawkin has now not been an psychiatric inpatient for two years.
it appears, must be working.
* A shortened
version of this article appeared at societyguardian.co.uk
1, 2005: A way with the anti-racist will? - In a bid to root
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4, 2005: Planned services heralded to be "hothouses of reform"
in rooting out racism in mental health - announcement of new
projects comes on heels of census to establish extent of discrimination
against black and minority ethnic patients in NHS and private hospitals
11, 2005: We'll cut rate that black and ethnic minority people are
detained in psychiatric hospital, vow ministers - promise unveiled
in government five-year anti-racist action plan for mental health
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