Cultural Competency in Mental Health Services

Mental Health Services

The NHS, which remains the UK’s main source of mental health support, continues to operate a one-size-fits-all service. This means that, despite the diversity of those seeking mental health support, as well as the multiplicity of individual contexts, only a limited route to recovery is offered. Factors like age, race, or spoken language must, as such, be navigated by individuals seeking support in the UK, adapting to the expectations of NHS services or being isolated from them.

By definition, all marginalised communities are affected by this, and, as such groups tend also to experience statistically greater instances of mental ill-health, they are more likely to be those in need of support.

Black and minority ethnic individuals are around 40% more likely to access support services in the UK and it is Black communities that have the highest rates of mental ill-health when compared with any other ethnic group in the UK. Black residents are more likely to experience common mental health issues each week while simultaneously being at greater risk for symptoms of psychosis and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And, yet, despite this, they receive less appropriate support, experience longer waiting periods, and see less recovery after treatment.

Only 6% of Black people receive treatment for mental health problems, a figure less than half of White people and one that continues to establish the ethnic group as the lowest recipient of mental health treatment in the UK.

There are many hurdles faced by Black individuals when seeking to access mental health services, notably an institutional ignorance of the differing cultural attitudes toward mental health and social contexts unique to the Black community. This is, of course, alongside persisting examples of racism faced by Black service users.

When considering the experiences of individual cases, trends can quickly be recognised. Phrases such as “lack of cultural competency” stick out, as well as the regular frustration of feeling like one’s background needs to be explained by a patient repeatedly so that support staff can understand the context of trauma. Such experiences lead, most often, to frustration and alienation, undermining the idea that six to eight weeks of prescribed support are enough. As one recently interviewed individual expresses, this amount of time barely touches the “tip of the iceberg”.

The remedial solutions for the system’s flaws are not mysterious. With around 86% of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) members being White and only 3% being from Black, African, or Caribbean backgrounds, there is a clear need for diversity within the mental health sector. However, representation within the industry alone isn’t a panacea. In fact, studies have demonstrated that matching therapists and clients by race is not as clear a predictor of positive client experience as cultural competency is.

There is, as such, a remarkable need for training within the NHS, as well as improved funding for mental health services in general, especially with a view to offering longer periods of mental health support. Cultural competency must grow across the system and the one-size-fits-all approach to mainstream mental health must be deconstructed.

Until this happens, individuals should seek alternative avenues of support, those that strive to understand cultural contexts and individual backgrounds, offering long-term mental health services with a view to processing and overcoming trauma of all forms. Those seeking support can find options for counselling in Bristol, with a team of experienced and accredited counsellors ready to help.

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