For those past and present who were not able to tell their stories.
For those who told their stories but were not heard.
For those who are steeling themselves,
Waiting for their moment to speak.
Dedication: The Colour of Madness: Exploring BAME Mental Health in the UK
These are the opening lines of The Colour of Madness, an anthology which explores Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) mental health in the UK. The anthology features art, poetry, stories and essays by over 50 BAME contributors and was edited by Rianna Walcott, PhD candidate at King’s College London and co-founder of Project Myopia, and me, a junior doctor and ‘expert by experience.’
People often ask me why we decided to focus on BAME people only. Why not all mental health experiences? How can we even say that there is a single BAME experience? Is there a common thread that defines the mental health experience of non-white people who live in the UK, that is distinct and separate from that of our white counterparts?
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that the term BAME is flawed, and may even be harmful. It defines us in opposition to whiteness, making whiteness ‘central’ and those of us from the global majority ‘other’. It is too broad an umbrella to encompass the multitude of cultures, languages, heritages and histories of the people it is supposed to represent fully.
There are countless social structures, hierarchies and intersections which shape the experiences of particular groups and individuals who fall under the BAME umbrella. We know that country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, migration status and socio-economic status all impact our mental health experience.
For example, people from Black African or Caribbean backgrounds are more likely to be detained and more likely to be subjected to Community Treatment Orders than any other ethnic group. Studies have found that 7 per cent of BAME lesbian and bisexual women have attempted to take their own life. This figure increases to 10 per cent of BAME lesbian and bisexual women who also have a disability.
Nevertheless, the wide-ranging and eclectic people and groups who share the BAME label are united by the collective disadvantage we experience when engaging with the mental health system in the UK. People from BAME backgrounds are disproportionately affected by mental health problems and fare worse in the mental health system than their white counterparts, yet mainstream mental health campaigns, funding and research centre the experiences of the latter.
People from BAME backgrounds are woefully underrepresented as mental health professionals, meaning that the people we interact with when we are at our most vulnerable are often unable to understand or empathise many aspects of our experience. People from BAME backgrounds are under-represented in senior positions in the NHS and as policymakers, meaning that the people who are making decisions for us frequently do not look like us.
In raising the voices of people from BAME backgrounds, The Colour of Madness adds to the breadth and depth of the mental health conversation, ensuring that all voices, not just the majority ones, are represented.
The Colour of Madness launch event, in October 2018, was a creative collaboration with Lon-art and featured readings and art installations by some of the anthology’s contributors. Since then, we have seen hundreds of people from all backgrounds attend our events across England and Scotland, welcoming this much-needed collection and sharing their own mental health stories. BAME students at the University of Edinburgh produced a play based on the anthology, and we have hosted several workshops on the themes of the book.
I have been overwhelmed by the positive reception this anthology has received, yet I cannot help but be saddened that such a book should be considered novel or revolutionary. While we have seen an increase in the attention paid to racial disparities in mental health, for example through news reports, audits and task forces, we are only at the beginning of our journey.
The Colour of Madness is but one drop in the ocean of voices that need to be heard.
About the Author
Samara Linton is a medical doctor, an award-winning writer and the editor of The Colour of Madness, an anthology exploring Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) mental health in the UK. She writes about gender, race and health for multiple publications and was awarded Best New Journalist at the Ending Violence Against Women Media Awards 2016. Samara is a University of Cambridge and a University College London graduate. She tweets at @Samara_Linton.