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Dr Ian Nnatu

Page medically reviewed by Dr Ian Nnatu (MB BS, PG DIP (CBT), MSc, FRCPsych, MRCPsych) Consultant Adult Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital North London

Mental health is a universal concern, transcending borders, cultures and ethnicities. However, nuances within each community can shape how each person experiences the topic of mental health. For the black and minority ethnic (BME) community in the UK, there's a unique set of challenges and experiences that everyone, whether you consider yourself part of the community or not, should be aware of. 

This article explores minority mental health in the BME community, shedding light on the disparities, barriers and ways forward.

What is BME?

BME stands for ‘Black & Minority ethnic’. It's a term that’s widely used in the UK to describe people from ethnic minority groups. This diverse group encompasses a range of cultures, religions and backgrounds.

While it offers a broad umbrella term, it's crucial to appreciate the individual experiences and needs of each BME group and those identifying within them.

Mental health differences in BME groups

Mental health affects people from all walks of life. However, statistics and studies on mental health have shown that certain issues may manifest differently, or be more prevalent, within specific BME groups. For example:

  • Certain ethnic groups may experience higher rates of particular mental health conditions
  • The cultural and societal nuances of each community can influence how mental health symptoms are recognised and addressed
  • Stigma surrounding mental health might be more pronounced in some cultures, affecting the willingness to seek help or report their struggles
  • They may also have to contend with racism and inequality

BME mental health statistics

Statistics also show that inequalities exist between the BME community and other ethnicities. It's essential to recognise these differences, allowing society as a whole to dismantle barriers and build a more equitable society with regards to mental health.

Key statistics on the BME community’s mental health include:

  • People from black communities are more likely than average to experience a common mental health problem in any given week: [1]
    • White British - 17%
    • White other - 14%
    • Black and black British - 23%
    • Asian and Asian British - 18%
    • Mixed and other - 20%
  • Black and black British women are more likely to experience a common mental health problem (29%) compared to white British women (21%) and non-British white women (16%). [1]
  • Despite higher prevalence, black adults have the lowest mental health treatment rate of any ethnic group, at 6% (compared to 13% in the white British group). [1]
  • Experiences of racism have been linked to increased likelihood of developing depression, hallucinations and delusions, and if physical assault is involved, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). [2]
  • Statistics show that black men are 10 times more likely than white men to experience a psychotic disorder. [3]
  • Black adults in the general population are the least likely to report being in receipt of any treatment (medication, counselling or therapy) – around 7% of them reported receiving treatment, compared with 14% of white British adults. [4]
  • Only 30% of ethnic minority communities feel comfortable talking about their thoughts and feelings. [5]
  • Over 1 in 3 people in the BME community experienced stigma and/or discrimination from a healthcare professional whilst receiving support for their mental health. [5]
  • Employment worries have negatively affected the mental health of 61% of BME people, compared to 51% of white people. [6]
  • Concerns about finances worsened the mental health of 52% of people who identified as BME, compared to 45% of those who identified as white. [6]

Barriers to BME mental health support

One aspect of inequality centres around access to mental health support, treatment and care. Several barriers, some of which are unique to the BME community, can hinder individuals from seeking or accessing the mental health support they need:

  1. Stigma, fear and shame: in many cultures, mental health is still a taboo subject, leading to reluctance in discussing or admitting mental health struggles
  2. Cultural awareness: the ethnic makeup of the UK is always fluctuating. Mental health services need to ensure they are able to understand and respect each person’s cultural values. With better understanding of different cultures comes a better understanding of someone’s needs
  3. Lack of representation: shortage of BME professionals in the mental health sector can make some feel there's a lack of relatable support. Representation can also mean services being led by people with direct lived experience
  4. Language barriers: For those for whom English isn't a first language, it can be challenging to communicate feelings and experiences. Not feeling understood can have a huge impact on your ability to get the support you need to improve your mental health

Why there are differences

There are a number of reasons behind the differences in mental health experiences and support for the BME community, for example, inequalities in wealth and living standards. These are complex, but the following areas have been identified as reasons behind mental health inequalities:

  • Historical context: Past events, like migration or facing racial prejudice, can influence the mental health of generations
  • Societal pressure: Factors like discrimination, racism and unconscious bias or feeling like you have to 'fit in' can exacerbate mental health issues
  • Cultural values: In some cultures, community and family opinions hold significant weight, leading to internal conflicts when someone feels they don't align with these expectations

How to support someone seeking mental health support

If someone you know from a BME community is struggling with their mental health, there are things you can do to help:

  • Listen actively: The simple act of just listening to someone can sometimes be underestimated. But just sitting down, with no external distraction, and listening to your loved one’s concerns can make a world of difference
  • Learn as much as you can: If you’re not from the BME community yourself, it’s important that you take some time to fully understand the specific challenges this community faces, and how that might affect their mental health. Don’t assume that because you think about a certain issue in a certain way, that everyone else does too.
  • Encourage professional help: It can take people time to come to terms with the suggestion they might need professional support, so tread carefully when bringing it up. Do everything you can to support them in making a  first appointment. Research suitable services and attend the appointment with them if they want you to
  • Consider those with the right experience: Encourage them to ask for a practitioner with lived experience in the BME community, or someone with experience treating people from the community. It might make them feel more comfortable and able to open up

Getting BME mental health support

If you, or someone you love, is struggling with their mental health, know that help and support are available, no matter your background. There are a few places you can go to get started with the support you need.

You could initially reach out to your GP. They can offer you tailored treatment and advice depending on your symptoms, or outline what your options are going forward. You could also reach out to a specialist support service, BME helpline or community group for mental health, Black Minds Matter UK or BAYO. 

Alternatively, you could reach out to a private provider of mental health treatment like Priory. We’re dedicated to delivering the very best mental health treatment and support, tailored to your individual needs. Our services are delivered across the UK in a compassionate, open-minded and inclusive manner, and we have a diverse team of specialists.

Use the information below to find out how you can start your journey to better mental health with us.

Get in touch today

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020  or submit an online enquiry form here. 

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