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How art group is tackling mental health inequality in Black communities

The government is examining racial inequalities as Black people are more than four times more likely than white people to be detained under the Mental Health Act

“I couldn’t trust the system even though I was crying out for help.” Greg Rodgers isn’t alone in the feeling of mistrust in the NHS. Black people are more than 10 times more likely to be subject to a community treatment order, and over four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act, according to recent data from NHS England.

Gregg, from Kings Heath, was 20 years old when he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and admits at the time his distrust in the NHS due to ‘historical factors’ resulted in him not wanting to seek medical help. “Looking back I probably was slightly erratic in my thinking and experiencing psychosis.," he said. “I didn't want to see the doctor because there was a combination of fear over what was going to be prescribed to me, not understanding what it was and also a distrust which was inherited from historical factors.”

Research published by the Black Equality Organisation revealed that 65% of Black Brits have reported being discriminated against by a healthcare professional because of their race. A figure that rises to a shocking 75% for those aged 18-34. The study, commissioned by the NHS Race and Health Observatory, revealed that ‘ethnic inequalities in health outcomes are evident at every stage throughout the life course, from birth to death.’

Had it not been for the outcry from Greg’s mum and sister he believes he wouldn’t be in recovery. He said: “I listen to my mum and sister, they’re the only ones I’ve got in this country so when they told me I need to seek medical help I trusted their judgment.

“If not for my mum dragging me to the doctors and those support workers in the community I wouldn’t be where I am today. The system can sometimes be a negative experience."

The government announced systemic change would reform the NHS however organisations like Red Earth Collective call for a more empathetic approach to assisting people with their recovery. Red Earth Collective are a Black-led, Birmingham-based organisation that uses the arts to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination in racialised and marginalised communities.

Founder and director Sandra Griffiths believes the current system sees people through the ‘lens’ of diagnosis, analysing every movement and leaving the individual misunderstood.

She said: “When Black people come into contact with the system we often find they’re labelled as angry, rarely are we looking behind that perception.

“The lack of understanding from some mental health practitioners, schools and police often leads to excluding or secluding Black people because they don’t understand the behaviour.

“We have a mental health system where everything you do is analysed through the lens of your diagnosis and sometimes that diagnosis is rejected by people for a range of reasons."

Sandra believes the use of art is one way to address the stigmas surrounding mental health in Black communities but also humanise Black people who have lived experiences with illnesses.

Greg grappled with the stigma of his own diagnosis and began questioning his ‘sense of masculinity as a young Black man. “I thought this was something I need to deal with myself and that no doctor or therapist would lighten the load I was feeling."

“People would say talking to someone is like a weight lifted off your shoulders but I was convinced that the weight was supposed to be on your shoulders because you’re a man.

“I had to be forced to get over that way of thinking because I was suffering. When I began my recovery journey I realised I needed to change my way of thinking, open my eyes and stop denying myself.”

Now 31 and a father, Greg doesn’t let the ‘label’ of his diagnosis define who he is. He is one of the creatives part of the Red Earth Collective.

“I went from working as a volunteer to working as part of the Collective, paying back into the Black community to help dispel myths and advocate for diverse ways of accessing the help that recognises the complexities in our identity.”

The Red Earth Collective is showcasing its latest project ‘Let Freedom Ring’ at 7:30 PM Friday 21ST October at the Mac Birmingham. It will be an evening of music and poetry celebrating the strength and resilience of Black people. Featuring live performances from Birmingham spoken word artist Sue Brown and more.


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