Black mental health documentary fails to name racism

Following emails received from several Kindred Minds facebook members, Raza Griffiths and other Kindred Minds members wrote a complaint to the BBC about their Black mental health documentary “Being Black, going crazy?” screened on BBC3 on 27 September 2016. The BBC responded…you can read the editor’s reaction below Kindred Minds’s letter

Kindred Minds Letter

We are a group of black and minority ethnic mental health service users who welcome responsible coverage of Black mental health issues. We had high hopes the BBC documentary “Being Black, going crazy?” screened on 27 September 2016 would do the issues justice, particularly as it was presented by and featured interviews with Black people with mental health issues.

The programme starts well, by asking why Black people have such poor mental health and such poor experience of mental health services. But its answers sideline racism and socio economic inequality.

This is disappointing, because it seems at certain points that the people interviewed are about to hit the nail on the head.

For example, a Black interviewee highlights the negative ways Black people are treated within the mental health system, but is then depicted as hurriedly leaving the interview room.

The presenter himself, reflecting on the testimonies he has heard from other Black service users and workers, does use the R-word once, right at the end of the programme, but then promptly becomes apologetic about naming racism. Why?

Another interview which starts promisingly is with the Haringey Mind Chief Executive who focuses on the difficult socio economic challenges facing Black people even before they come into contact with mental health services. But she then starts talking about how “[Black] communities [are] failing” to look after their own.

As someone working in the voluntary sector, she of all people should have mentioned that the Black voluntary sector has been hit disproportionately hard by austerity and is thus not in a good shape to look after Black people.

Instead of focusing on the real issues, the programme blames the high rates of Black mental distress on stigmatising attitudes within Black communities which prevent people seeking help. We know that stigma is a problem in our communities but it is certainly not unique to Black communities.

‘Stigma’ does not address the original questions posed by the documentary. The programme is thus misleading, and presents Black communities subject to racism as ‘the problem’.

We call on the BBC to prominently publish this letter and to promote a more informed debate around black mental health in its future programming.

BBC response (sent to Raza Griffiths)

Dear Mr Griffiths

Reference CAS-4045307-YKHS88

Thank you for contacting us regarding ‘Being Black, Going Crazy?’ on BBC Three.

I understand you feel that the programme didn’t focus enough on the racism the black community faces.

The aim of this programme was to explore the multitude of factors that could be contributing to the statistics: from racism to religion, social and urban deprivation as well as why the issue is so taboo in black communities.

Keith Dube visited the Park Royal Centre for Mental Health and asked Dr Twins, a specialist Doctor, “a lot of black patients feel that they are treated differently than their white counterparts, is there any truth to that?”

She responded by saying that it can happen, but she wouldn’t say on the whole that it what staff do.

Keith also spoke to Malcolm Phillips, a mental health psychologist who said that:

“Black people when they go for help are generally seen as more dangerous, so they are more likely to a more severe diagnosis.”

Keith Dube did say that “but I do feel that sometimes as a community we are too quick to blame everything on racism”.

While speaking to Lynette Charles, CEO of Mind in Haringey, who spoke about black communities being forced to live in deprived areas. She was speaking about black communities failing to do enough as well, however this does not take away from her previous comment about economic differences.

I appreciate you feel that more focus should have been given to the issue of racism.

Your feedback is important to us and your concerns have been placed on an overnight report. This document is made available to senior management and the ‘Being Black, Going Crazy?’ production team. This report can be used to inform future broadcasting and policy decisions, so please be assured that your complaint has been sent to the right people.

Thanks again for getting in touch.
Kind regards
David Currie BBC Complaints Team

NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.