Catalyst 4 Change offers a fresh approach to support community organisations, social enterprises, faith groups or businesses that have a significant African and Caribbean user-base, to enable them to achieve positive improvements for their mental health support needs in the West Midlands.
This is a pressing issue as a considerable body of evidence exists which demonstrates poor experiences and outcomes within African and Caribbean communities in relation to mental health.
Despite the shocking statistics, there has been an ongoing failure to achieve consistent improvements in this area, notwithstanding countless consultations and reviews, as well as endless reports, recommendations and policy commitments.
Adopting the role of ‘positive deviants’, Catalyst 4 Change wish to avoid some of the familiar problems when addressing concerns related to the mental health experiences of African and Caribbean communities, and the failure to synthesize evidence drawn from lived experience, good practice and practical expertise with theory and evidence from the relevant literature.
We believe that African and Caribbean communities are holders of huge reserves of social capital; of assets and resources, skills and talents, knowledge and experience. Yet much of this remains unknown and little understood by our public agencies. It doesn’t help that public agencies have become increasingly drawn into a ‘culture’ of management and bureaucracy which is making them ever more distant and remote from the communities they are seeking to serve.
Since Catalyst 4 Change was established in 2017, we have spoken with faith-based organisations, statutory and voluntary sector organisations, grassroot organisations, black people with lived experience of mental health problems and their carers to create a better understanding of the current mental health experiences of African and Caribbean communities in the West Midlands.
We have co-hosted three black mental health seminars. Two of these seminars were held with two different black majority church organisations: New Testament Church of God and Gospel Express. One seminar was with the Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust.
These events have helped us gain qualitative data so that we have a better understanding of the real life experiences of African and Caribbean people with mental health problems and their carers when accessing services both from the statutory and voluntary sector in the West Midlands.
The picture that is emerging is not a new one. Recurring themes relate to mental health and racial stigma and discrimination; lack of culturally responsive services particularly talking therapies; limited support for people discharged from psychiatric care; greater focus on medication and a lack of support leading up to and at point of crisis.
Much of our data is largely focused on Caribbean communities and men. We need to further develop qualitative data that represents the diversity within African and Caribbean communities that includes culture, gender, sexual orientation and age.
Understanding the full extent of mental health inequalities experienced by black communities is an important step to tackle this agenda. Nationally, people from black ethnic groups continue to have much higher rates of detention than white people, particularly Black Caribbean and Black African men.
Black and minority ethnic communities account for approximately 42 percent of the number of detentions compared with 22 percent of the overall population for the West Midlands region. We are keen to explore with West Midlands sustainability and transformative partnerships and local clinical commissioning groups about how this national policy focus can be translated into local action.
Earlier in the year, Catalyst contacted Synergi to explore how we could collaborate to pool our expertise to develop a regional strategy to tackle ethnic inequalities experienced by African and Caribbean communities in the West Midlands.
We wanted an original approach. We did not want to just rehearse the same problems that have shaped the African and Caribbean mental health discourse over the last 30 years. We wanted to find opportunities for change and we wanted to develop sustainable solutions.
Synergi suggested that we co-host a knowledge sharing event under its Creative Spaces hub as a starting point. We held our first West Midlands Creative Spaces event on 24 October 2018, hosted by Sean Russell and the West Midlands Mental Health Commission
The event brought together 22 colleagues from statutory services, public health, the voluntary sector, faith Communities, people with lived experienced of mental health problems and carers from across the West Midlands.
We had a rich, multi-layered and focused dialogue about the continued inequalities African and Caribbean communities face: the short-term nature of past initiatives that have been set up to address mental health inequalities and need to improve commissioning of culturally responsive services.
Alongside these guided discussions we answered three core questions within groups and we shared stories of mental programmes/services that have been developed by and for the black community locally. We heard of the impact of their work, often with limited resources.
These solution-focused, future facing discussions inspired a sense of hope, enterprise and collaboration. We are now planning to form a coalition to develop a regional strategy to tackle ethnic inequalities to improve commissioning and service provision, and to inform the political and policy contexts in which we are working.
One of Catalyst’s objectives is to stimulate, develop and promote a thriving and diverse voluntary and community sector and grassroots initiatives so that they can make a positive impact on the emotional and mental wellbeing of African and Caribbean communities in West Midlands.
Our first co-hosted Creative Spaces event has enabled us to begin that journey.
Sandra Griffiths is co-founder and co-director of Catalyst 4 Change.
To become a member of Catalyst 4 Change, click here.