Mental health and wellbeing: Will the new government plan adequately address and correct existing inequalities?
by Simone Connolly, Client Executive

This year the government refreshed a consultation on the mental health and well-being plan which aims to tackle “entrenched disparities” across the UK.  

This comes as the Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Health Bill published a report in January scrutinising the effectiveness of the 2022 draft legislation. The committee aimed to identify the extent to which the draft bill would ensure fewer people were wrongfully detained, address racial inequalities and end the inappropriate long-term detention of people with learning disabilities and autistic people.

The Independent also reported pressures to government from Chair to the joint committee, Baroness Buscombe who called for more sufficient government action: “We believe stronger measures are needed to bring about change, in particular to tackle racial disparity in the use of the Mental Health Act. The failure to date is unacceptable and inexcusable.”  

This is an area that - despite shocking, documented disparities and discrimination - there remains little meaningful discourse among groups with the power to enact real change. Poor mental health and wellbeing recognition and support is an issue that disproportionately impacts ethnic minorities and permeates the black community in particular. In the year to March 2021, black people were nearly 5 times as likely as white people to be detained under the Mental Health Act, seeing a staggering contrast of 344 detentions per 100,000 people, compared with 75 per 100,000 people. Within this, black African people had the highest rate of detention out of all ethnic groups.  

We know inequalities compound and intersect. This extends to health inequalities, too. There are prominent health inequalities disproportionately impacting people across the UK from lower socio-economic backgrounds. These inequalities were only exacerbated by Covid-19 (mortality rates from COVID-19 in the most deprived areas of the country were more than double that found in the least deprived areas). In 2021, ONS stats found stark differences between life expectancies across deprived and affluent areas in the UK: female healthy life expectancy at birth in the most deprived areas was 19.3 years fewer than in the least deprived areas in 2018 to 2020; for males it was 18.6 years fewer. Areas with less access to high-quality healthcare services; higher rates of unemployment and homelessness; increased trends of (generational) trauma; and more, can accelerate mental health inequalities. This is why The Mental Health Foundation called for government to tackle inequalities at the heart of mental health problems in their submission to this consultation.  

The stigma attached to ill mental health is pervasive, however in recent years we have seen what I believe to be the beginning of its corrected course. Despite this, there remains critical work to be done on the prioritisation and urgent action to address the mental health inequalities disproportionately impacting poor people across the UK, as well as ethnic minorities.  

This issue is deeply complex, which firstly requires state intervention to invest and better support deprived communities, which we can only hope to see come to fruition as promised in the levelling up white paper. Secondly, a multitude of cultural and social shifts, education and bias-confrontation, are needed to ensure that ethnic minorities do not suffer further discrimination and injustice upon seeking support for their ill mental health.

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