December 2017 news from the London network

Supporting service user voices

London is undoubtedly a great world city, with an almost unparalleled ethnic and cultural diversity, and great material wealth. But it is also riven with stark and growing inequality, with the Square Mile of the City bordering some of the most socio economically deprived areas of the country. There is also ongoing discrimination and injustice against the large BME communities (which, in some boroughs, are now actually in a majority) and against women and LGBT people. All these factors affect our mental wellbeing.

Together, we are stronger!


  1. National – Race Disparity Audit: focus on unequal detention rates for Black people

Whilst the recent Race Disparity Audit ordered by Theresa May shone a renewed light on racial inequalities in policing, education, housing and other areas, mental health was confirmed as an area of particularly stark inequality of experience. With London having by far, the highest concentration of BME communities, the findings of the Audit are of particular relevance for London.

The Audit showed that Black people were four times as likely as White people to be detained under the Mental Health Act.

But the point is, what action will the Government take, given that it is almost totally preoccupied with Brexit?

What do you think we should do with the information from the Race Disparity Audit? (link to PDF attachment of Race Disparity Audit).

  1. Southwark: BME service usersspell changes to improve race based mental health inequalities

A major piece of work NSUN is helping promote is the Kindred Minds BME mental health service user led Manifesto. This is now almost complete after 2 years of consultations with BME service users in south London and an extensive literature review.

The Manifesto and accompanying report is unique (as far as we know) in being BME service user led, and spells out the changes to policy and practice that BME service users want to see in order to improve mental wellbeing.  Let me know if BME mental health inequalities are of interest to you to see how we can take this forward. Here is a link to the Kindred Minds facebook page

  1. Lambeth: Black Thrive works to challenge Black mental health inequalities

Black Thrive is a Lambeth borough campaign to improve Black mental health and originally arose out of the Enquiry into the death of Sean Rigg, a young Black man with mental health issues who was killed by Police following prolonged restraint in Brixton in 2008.

If you are a Black service user or ally and would like to know more about Black Thrive, here is a link

At one of the regular Black Thrive meetings, held in November 2017 in Brixton, participants, who included Marcia Rigg, Sean’s sister who led the campaign for justice for her brother, focused on the often heavy handed way the Police target Black people. Not only does this include apparently racially motivated use of Stop and Search, but also, an extremely heavy handed policing style that sometimes results in the tragic deaths of Black people including Black mental health service users. 

“There are ways to de-escalate a situation, for example, a woman was waving a chair around at a previous meeting. We just gave her some space and she calmed down. But if the Police come in, they are literally coming in and killing us with their bare hands” Marcia Rigg said.

Sharon Mallett, a Black expert by experience and carer, said “The knowledge we have as Black people around de-escalating incidents is being pushed aside by the Police”.

One suggestion for what could be done to prevent such tragedies was to have a much more widespread availability of defibrillators which would help to keep people alive, including at Police stations.

“Certain types of physical restraint need to be banned” was the view of one delegate, because these had led to people being killed. These include face down and ‘hog tied’ restraint.

In 2018 Black Thrive will continue to liaise to develop bridge building between the Police and local Black communities in Lambeth.

  1. Tower Hamlets & national: Launch of Synergi BME mental health Knowledge Hub

Synergi, is a national initiative that aims to produce better evidence around mental health, and claims to want to give more prominence to the often neglected or downplayed narratives of BME mental health service users and others at the ‘coal face’ of mental health, its Director, Professor KamaldeepBhui, Professor of Cultural Psychiatry & Epidemiology, from lead partner Queen Mary University London, said at its launch in London in November 2017. With London having by far, the highest concentration of BME communities, this initiative is of particular relevance for London.

The use of the word ‘narrative’ by Synergi in referring to the collective knowledge, wisdom, experience and insight of service users is, arguably, somewhat worrying. For service user ‘narratives’ are used all the time, but the context they are put in is one which we often have little or no control over. That is not what we want more of. We want real influence over knowledge production.

Some of the leading figures involved in Synergi, such as Professor James Nazroo, of Manchester University, have a distinguished record and history of highlighting the social justice issues around racial inequalities in mental health. But, it remains to be seen to what extent Synergi will truly work to develop the evidence base with BME service users as equal partners, in a field which has traditionally at least, like much of academia and knowledge production, been rigidly hierarchical.

BME service users and researchers are considering writing a letter to Synergi expressing our hopes that BME service users will take a leading role in this initiative. Would you like to be part of this? And are there any points you want to make? Please contact the NSUN London Co-ordinator, Raza Griffiths (link to Raza’s email)

Here is a video link to Raza Griffiths NSUN London Coordinator and Sarah Yiannoullou NSUN Managing Director, speaking in advance of the launch event

N.B The use of the word “mental illness” which is emblazoned on the Synergi banners behind us is not one that NSUN endorses and we recognise that for many, the term is associated with a bio medical model that many find oppressive