Faith Plays Vital Role In Mental Health Recovery

In a move to sustain the call for equity in the treatment of black patients using mental health services,  the human right campaigning group Black Mental Health UK held a symposium hosted in association with the Kensington and Chelsea Carers Association at Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall for Black History Month.

Following on from the launch of Black Mental Health UKs online campaign in August, this symposium marked a  response to the realisation that this issue fast becoming one of the most important concerns effecting African Caribbean communities in Britain today.  With detention rates in secure hospitals far surpassing that of any other ethnic group, there is a growing realisation that this unspoken crisis has led to the destruction of a generation of Black Britons.

Supported by the mental health charity The Richmond Fellowship, the public meeting entitled ‘The role of faith in mental health recovery,’ offered professionals, carers, church leaders and the wider community  the unique opportunity to learn about iniatives that have come out of Black churches which is transforming the mindset of a profession that refutes the existence of God.

Speakers at the meeting included writer and publisher, Reverend Paul Grey, minister Dorrettee Pattterson, psychiatrist and academic Dr Oyepeju Raji and Dr Joanna Bennett, key exponent of the David ‘Rocky’ Bennett Inquiry.

With the Department of Health’s planning to publish their amendments of the 1983 Mental Health Act this November, BMH UK also used the symposium to step up their campaign, which is calling for the poor treatment of African Caribbean patient to be made a priority in the rewrite of the law.

Church leaders including Rev Nezlin Stirling, Chair of ACEA, Dr Bishop Joe Aldred head of the Council of Black Led Churches and Pastor Dennis Hall Chair of Christians Together in Brent are among those backing the fight against the widespread discrimination in mental health services faced by African Caribbean patients. These leaders are among the Black activists championing the faith based solutions, which church groups are making available to patients with outstanding results.

Dispelling the old adage that politics and religion do not mix, ministers at the forefront of this dynamic new emergence in the Church joined forces to support the work of the human rights campaign group BMH UK (Black Mental Health UK)  to put the role of Christian faith in mental health recovery firmly on the medical map.

The emergence of a new mental health ministry within Black Majority Churches is not only plugging a care gap in mainstream services but is also saving patients lives.

Currently church leaders have been excluded from the consultation process in the  review of the 1983 Mental Health Act despite the large numbers of Black people affected by this issue who regularly attend church.

Interim findings of the Christian Institute for Research’s national census on church attendance indicate that over 75% of African Caribbean’s attend church on a regular basis and yet there has been no acknowledgement of the significant role that faith plays in the life of black patients and their carers.

Reports of patients being medicated for expressing their belief in God or confiding that they have a relationship with their creator is not uncommon. This is of serious concern to BMH UK and faith leaders because of the vital role that faith in God has historically played in this communities healing and recovering from any medical condition.

Rather than depending on statutory services,  which often lack the resources or political will to make a difference in Black patients experience, BMCs across the country have developed a pioneering mental health ministry that is transforming lives and restoring many in the communities who have almost been destroyed after their contact with mental health services.

‘The church is ideally suited to deal with this crisis as they have the capacity to meet this need with love and compassion you don’t get in a scientific framework within which mental health care is provided,’ Dr Joanna Bennett, key exponent of the David Bennett Inquiry, told the audience at the symposium.

Fellow panellist Rev Paul Grey told the audience of health professionals and service users : ‘love, compassion and a belief that everyone has something valuable to offer is key to supporting anyone on their journey to recovery who has used mental health services.  For me it was having that person who came from the church, not only to support me through the challenges involved with using mental health services, but encouraging me to look beyond that  find my purpose and potential.’

‘My faith played a critical part in my recovering.  I’m a living example of something that does work – it’s not what people say about you or  the diagnosis given to you by a psychiatrist,  but where you draw your strength from and confidence from.  People can know that they can be reconnected to their spirit and that to me is of utmost importance.’

Black pastors keen to provide to support people from their community trapped in psychiatric care, are finding their access to chaplaincy vacancies blocked by the statutory services.

Pastor Dennis Hall’s Chair of Christian’s Together in Brent told the audience about the difficulties  he has seen able and qualified black pastors often face when applying to become chaplains in mental health hospitals. ‘I know of many pastors who have applied to be chaplains in mental health hospitals who were more than qualified to do the job, but have been turned down. There are definitely barriers to us being able to access our people  and offer the support that they really need’, pastor  Hall pointed out.

Research by psychiatrist who have seen the link with mental well being and faith have revealed that ethnic minorities in particular use prayer as a frequent and favoured coping strategy.  The research also noted that people are not always prepared to share their spirituality with others for fear of being labelled mentally ill.

It has long been acknowledged among carers and mental health survivors groups that expressing one’s faith or belief in God could lead to increased medication and longer stays in hospital

Former mental health practitioner and Chair of the symposium Rev Nezlin Stirling is fully aware of the punitive treatment meted out to Black patients under the guise of care.  Count Me In, a report on the first national census of mental health hospitals Government research shows that African Caribbean’s are 44% more likely to be sectioned, 29% more like to be forcibly restrained and 50% more likely to be put in seclusion once detained than other ethnic groups.  Findings of the David Bennett inquiry report into the death of an African Caribbean in psychiatric care concluded that Mental Health Services are institutionally racist.

‘It important that this work continues and more pastors who are willing to support people in this way are allowed access to black patients and as Chair of ACEA I will do what I can to facilitate this process,’ Rev Stirling said.

BMH UKs campaign for justice in mental health services was launched after persistent moves by the Department of Health to sideline Black experts concerns over the review of the 1983 Mental Health Act.

The online lobbying campaign is calling for the crisis in African Caribbean mental health is made a national priority.

With only a few days before parliament reconvenes for another session there is a frenzy of activity over the 1983 Mental Health Act and delegates at the symposium were encourage to support BMH UKs campaign.

‘Even up to the last minute it is worth campaigning when you want something changed.  The Government has spent millions on this over the years making amendments to the 1983 Mental Health Act but after successful campaigning by race equality and human rights experts the Government forced into a climb down over the hugely contentious 2004 Mental Health Bill,’ Rev Paul said. ‘If enough of us unite behind this campaign – we can do the same again.’