RCPsych warns of “triple whammy” of blows to mental health for people of Black, Asian and minority ethnic background

Press release
30 June 2020

The new President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned that people from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background face a “triple whammy” of blows to their mental health due to suffering disproportionately from COVID-19, the despair and hurt many people feel following the killing of George Floyd, and the ongoing institutional racism in the NHS.

Dr Adrian James, who will become President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists late this afternoon, said: “Racism is pervasive and can lead to a profound feeling of pain, harm and humiliation, often culminating in despair and exclusion.

“The persistent and wide-ranging inequalities for people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK, increase their likelihood of being disadvantaged across all aspects of society. 

“In addition, people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are more likely to experience poverty, to have poorer educational outcomes, to be unemployed, and to come in contact with the criminal justice system. These, in turn, are risk factors for developing a mental illness but they are far less likely to access the right support at the right time.

“We must fight racism not just within the NHS but across society if we want this injustice to stop affecting people’s mental health. The impact of racism on mental health should be urgently prioritised by the Prime Minister’s new commission on racial inequalities, following the widespread Black Lives Matter protests in the UK.”

As he takes up office, Dr James appoints two presidential leads to develop a race equality action plan, and a race and equality manager to lead the work on equality and diversity.

The College, working with the two newly appointed presidential leads for race equality, will be developing an action plan that sets out how it will drive change to improve mental healthcare for people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. This work will address the College’s own policies and ways of working.

At the same time, more should be done across the NHS to act against inequalities and discrimination facing psychiatrists from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Supporting psychiatrists to design and deliver services for patients and initiatives for staff that address inequalities will be a primary area of work, alongside ensuring support for people with mental illness does not lag behind due to inequalities in research.

Presidential lead, Dr Lade Smith, said: “Too often, people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities don’t get the treatment they need when they first need it and so they are pushed into crisis with severe illnesses that are more complex to treat. I see this as a chance to generate ideas and put them into practice to ensure that patients from all communities have equal access to high quality services and better outcomes.”

Presidential lead, Dr Raj Mohan, said: “COVID and world events have once again exposed the multiple inequalities faced by those with mental illness in this country. Systemic racism is something we can overcome with understanding and action. We want to see an end to people being detained or sectioned because they don’t get help until they’re in crisis. That means tackling social inequalities and stigma in society and providing culturally sensitive services, designed around the needs of local communities.”

The College will be setting up a working group on race and equality, co-chaired by Dr James and CEO Paul Rees.

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