Supporting BAME mental health

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Health Assured team

12 June 2020

A sobering statistic—one in four black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) with mental health issues will keep these issues to themselves. 

There are several potential reasons for this. Everyone is different, and everyone’s story is different, but common threads are: 

  • People of a minority ethnic background may feel that no-one understands their mental health concerns 
  • They may feel marginalised by the systems set up to help mental health issues—while they absolutely shouldn’t be, sometimes racism and discrimination appear in even healthcare 
  • Cultural differences may result in mental health discussion being shunned, or seen as something to disregard 

50% of people of a BAME background, according to Mind, don’t speak about mental health as they don’t want to place a burden on others—despite 84% of people asked saying they feel good about themselves when helping someone they care about. 

Clearly, people need the support. So, how can you help? 

Look specifically at the experiences of BAME people 

You can’t begin to understand unless you know. It’s impossible to truly work on your own acceptance of the issues of others—particularly those who have spent a lifetime facing prejudice that you may not, depending on circumstanceunless you seek out guidance on those experiences. 

Simply put, the best way to gain that knowledge is to ask. Obviously, this needs to be done in a sensitive and controlled manner. But conversations with BAME staff, and stories of their experiences—not just with mental health, but with their life in general—can be pretty eye-opening. And once you begin to understand the struggles faced by the BAME population on a daily basis, you’ll begin to understand that asking for help with mental health isn’t necessarily so easy. 

Engage with diversity, and culturally appropriate advocacy 

Much of the time, mental health provision is a ‘one and done’ affair, with guidance, advice and advocacy put into place and left alone. It’s very much a reactive solution. 

While this might work—sometimes—for the majority, people of a BAME background may find it difficult to engage with something not suited to their cultural needs.  

This isn’t to say that, necessarily, you need to place an equal number of BAME advisors and advocates as others in your organisation—it means that you need to embrace diversity and ensure that the minority voices in your care are heard, and responded to, with just as much care and attention as any other. 

Learning to understand the issues people face, and learning how to deal with those proactively, is an important step on the road to achieving equality in the care you provide to your people.  

Make inclusion and belonging a priority 

When someone is in a minority in any situation—social, at work—they can feel isolated. It’s vital that this isn’t allowed to take hold. BITC have assembled the Race at Work Charter, a set of calls to action for leaders and organisations which ensure workplaces tackle these barriers, and ensure every workplace is representative of society today: 

  1. Appoint an Executive Sponsor for race 

Executive Sponsors for race provide visible leadership on race and ethnicity in their organisation and can drive actions such as setting targets for ethnic minority representation, briefing recruitment agencies and supporting mentoring and sponsorship 

   2. Capture ethnicity data and publicise progress 

Capturing ethnicity data is important for establishing a baseline and measuring progress. It is a crucial step towards an organisation reporting on ethnicity pay differentials 

   3. Commit at board level to zero tolerance of harassment and bullying 

The Race at Work Survey revealed that 25% of ethnic minority employees reported that they had witnessed or experienced racial harassment or bullying from managers. Commitment from the top is needed to achieve change 

   4. Make clear that supporting equality in the workplace is the responsibility of all leaders and managers 

Actions can include ensuring that performance objectives for leaders and managers cover their responsibilities to support fairness for all staff 

   5. Take action that supports ethnic minority career progression 

Actions can include embedding mentoring, reverse mentoring and sponsorship in their organisations 

Encourage, provide, and listen 

These are the most important pieces of advice you can take when helping BAME staff deal with mental health issues. 

At time of writing, a lot is going on in the world. We’re all facing a global pandemic which disproportionately targets ethnic minorities in terms of infections and deaths—not only because of susceptibility to disease, but because of socioeconomic factors. The Black Lives Matter movement has hit a flashpoint, and is demanding—and making—changes across borders and continents. 

Encourage a culture of openness at work. Whatever concerns anyone may have, make sure they can speak about them openly, with no shame, worry or fear of recrimination. 

Provide ways for everyone—BAME people especially—to access help, guidance, advice and counselling on the topics that affect them specifically and deeply. An employee assistance programme is perfect for this. 

And most of all, listen. The voices of the marginalised are often the quietest, even though they have more—and more important—things to say. Amplify those voices, listen to their needs, and make sure to spread those messages. 

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