Earlier this year I went to a talk about Black Masculinity and Mental Health and Leeds Uni.
A couple of interesting points worth sharing:
The British approach to mental health is intrinsically racist
As we know, police disproportionately target young black men for stop and search. In the 80’s, when legislation made it more difficult for police to stop black men without a reason, the mental health act was widely used in order to justify unfair targeting of black people. An official police reason for stopping black men in the street was suspected ‘ganja psychosis’. Not kidding!
The mere fact of being black was ‘enough’ reason to stop a black man in the street for fears he might be psychotic as a result of the devil’s lettuce. If you look through records around this time you will not find an example of a white person being diagnosed with this ‘disease’, also named RASTOFRANIA. Seriously, this happened.
Flash forward to the 90s. Malcolm, the black mental health worker who explained this to me had worked for the ‘upstairs project’ in London for 5 years, where suicidal or mentally ill people could get referred over for emergency treatment from a London hospital. In these 5 years, EVERY SINGLE PERSON referred to the project was white. Malcolm explained this stems from the idea of a black person as a threat needing to be detained, versus a hysterical white person needing understanding and treatment. People of color have less access to resources and treatment.
When Malcolm studied human psychology at Leeds University (admittedly over 30 years ago) racism was intrinsic to the curriculum. Of 8000 students at the time only 4 of them at the uni weren’t white. What’s more, he had to sit through classes in which lecturers explained the innate inferiority of black people compared to white people, which could explain why black people are suffering more pressures like poverty, unemployment and mental health problems.
We aren’t talking hundreds of years ago, we’re talking the 80s.
The West Can Learn a Lot from Africa
Western approaches to mental health are unique in ignoring the spiritual world. African approaches to depression and anxiety are more likely to acknowledge that when all is said and done, human beings are searching for meaning in our lives and relationships. This search for meaning is intertwined with mental health problems.
Traditional African approaches acknowledge that mental health and well being are about so much more than measuring serotonin levels. Of course, medication and psychotherapy can be useful to many, but white culture has broken the issues down in such a way that depression is more and more a scientific problem to be fixed in a sterile hospital room, rather than considering holistic approaches such as meditation, reflection, nature, yoga and lifestyle changes.
Thank you so much for reading – hope you found this an interesting conversation starter!