Cathy Stancer, Director, Equalities and Rights at Lankelly Chase, explains why the foundation is focused on changing systems to alleviate severe and multiple disadvantage.

Synergi Collaborative Centre Stroke

Highlighting ethnic inequality in mental health

Lankelly Chase has a long history as a funder of voluntary and community sector services in the field of ethnic inequality in mental health. Some people might remember our funding programme ‘Free and Quiet Minds’, which ran for more than 10 years.

In recent years we have focused on work to change the systems that perpetuate what we call severe and multiple disadvantage. We’re talking here about exclusionary processes. The way serious disadvantages, such as poverty, homelessness, experiences of violence, abuse and exploitation, contact with the criminal justice system, mental ill health and substance misuse accumulate and interlock in people’s lives.

This is an issue of the utmost urgency, as evidenced by recent articles in The Lancet which report that people facing certain kinds of deep exclusion are 10 times more likely to die early than those in the general population.

It is also an issue where ethnicity is important. Ethnicity affects the way people experience the services that are supposed to help, and it affects the way services respond. The stark ethnic disproportionality at key moments in key systems – school exclusion, arrest, imprisonment and detention under the Mental Health Act is evidence of this. Another name for this might be institutional racism.

Engagement with these matters is essential. They sit at the heart of the situation we’re trying to change, yet they are omitted from most other strategies.

Our track record in ethnic inequality in mental health, and the longstanding intractability of this issue, made it a natural starting point for us. We began a dialogue with people in the field about how to create the conditions for systems change. This led directly to the commissioning of the Synergi Collaborative Centre, as well as to other commitments, Black Thrive in Lambeth and work on national infrastructure for ethnic minority user voice among them.

The Synergi team have grasped the brief and taken it forward in ways that are more creative than we could possibly have hoped. We don’t know quite what will happen (complexity inevitably brings uncertainty) but we are very excited to be on this journey with them.