Experts Slam ‘Sham’ Research Refuting Racism In Mental Health Services

New research refuting racism as the factor behind the widespread discrimination faced by Black people using mental health services have been slammed by academics and health professionals as ‘unfounded’. Professor Swaran Singh and Tom Burns promoted their research from the University of Warwick in an article published by the British Medical Journal by contesting that institutional racism within mental health services is the reason for the over representation of African Caribbean in psychiatric care.

Lee Jasper, chair of the ACMCH (African Caribbean Mental Health Commission) commented at the launch of the census that it “confirmed once and all that mental health services are institutionally racist and overwhelmingly discriminatory”. Singh and Burns have condemned this view as ‘unhelpful’ saying it prevents the search for the real causes of why black people are treated so badly by mental health services.

“This response should come as no surprise to Black people: Denial is the routine response we get whenever it comes to light that any organisation is institutionally racist,” Lee Japser told Blink. “We have a massive body of evidence to show that the system is inherently racist. All we need to do as a community is press on with seeing the changes that need to be made to decrease the systematic detention of our people within mental health hospitals.”

Questions around the robustness of this new research abound, with academics have questioning the credibility of Singh and Burns findings. “This research is unscientific and a misleading attempt to discredit proper researchers. You can’t investigate racism by doing medical research as the authors seem to think they can,” Professor Suman Fernando told Blink.

Condemned in many quarters for showing psychiatry in a bad light many experts in this field support this view and are angered by attempts to refute decades of scientific evidence showing the existence of institutional racism within mental health services.

“It is completely obvious after 30 years of evidence that shows that there is systemic racism within mental health services and that discrimination plays a significant role in the kind of treatment African Caribbean patients receive,” academic and consultant psychiatrist Dr Kwame McKenzie said.

“I am really disappointed to see an article refuting the real reason why there are such high rates of detention among African Caribbean patients. People who have been working in mental health for a really long time and understand institutional racism are aware this is an issue. It has taken 30 years of evidence and people dying to get one poorly funded iniative to address this. There is no excuse for nonsense like this as it shows psychiatry in a really bad light.”

Funded by the Department of Health, Singh and Burns research comes as the Health Care Commission prepare to publish the second set of ethnic census figure of in patient mental health services for 2006. The Count Me In census is part of Delivering Race Equality, a Government five year plan for combating the racism within mental health services.

Rolled out partly in response to allegations within the NHS and The David ‘Rocky’ Bennett Inquiry report which found mental health services to be institutionally racist. Evidence from a the Health Care Commission report published just last month show that little has been done in the last 12 months to address the discrimination in any form. Over half of the mental health trusts in England have failed to even begun to implemented government strategies to address racism health services.

Findings of the second census are due to be published before the end of the year. This has caused many to conclude that Burns and Sing’s Department of Health funded research is an attempt to deflect attention away from the fact that no progress has been made to address racism within the services over the last 12 months.

Findings of the 2005 Census revealed the unprecedented levels of racism within mental health services has had a devastating impact on the health and well being of Black communities. African Caribbean make up less than three percent of the national population but are 30% of patients on medium secure wards.

They are 44% more likely to be sectioned, 29% more likely to be forcibly restrained, 50% more likely to be put in seclusion than white patients despite similar rates of mental ill health as other ethnic groups.

With less than 50% of mental health providers making any attempts to address this issue Lee Japser’s comments that mental health services are more about criminalising our communities rather than caring for them still ring true.

“We see it in the education system in the way our young people are excluded in such large numbers, and in the 1980s’ when white boys were getting away with attacks on our young men and in the police force and now we are seeing it in the 2000 within mental health hospitals,” Jasper added. “Anyone who can produce research disputing the existence of institutional racism, while working in this professions must be working in a very different world to me,” Dr Mckenzie added.