Croydon North MP Steve Reed has called for a public inquiry into institutional racism in the mental health services. The Labour MP was speaking at the launch of the Labour Campaign for Mental Health in central London on Saturday 28th January.
Steve spoke about the tragic death of Olaseni Lewis, a 21-year-old black man from Thornton Heath who died in 2010 after being subjected to severe physical restraint by up to 11 police officers at the Royal Bethlem Hospital. The restraint was so severe it broke Mr Lewis’s spine and put him in a coma, he died four days later. He had no previous record of mental ill health, was in the hospital as a voluntary admission, and there are no allegations he threatened anyone before being forcibly restrained. No police officers have ever been prosecuted.
Steve Reed raised the case in Parliament and secured changes in the regulations governing the use of police in mental health services.
Speaking this weekend, Steve raised concerns that imply Mr Lewis may have been the victim of institutional racism. According to data compiled by Black Mental Health UK, a privately owned company, young black men are significantly more likely to be diagnosed as psychotic or schizophrenic than other people with identical symptoms. Once diagnosed, young black men are significantly more likely to be subject to more severe forms of medication or restraint than others with the same diagnosis.
Many members of Croydon’s black community have told Steve they are fearful about using mental health services because they believe they will face discrimination. As a result, some black people self-diagnose and self-medicate, leave symptoms untreated, or travel abroad for treatment.
Steve Reed MP said: “It is unacceptable that so many black British people are afraid to use NHS mental health services because they fear they will face prejudice and discrimination.
“There are serious concerns about how assumptions made about young black men in particular lead to misdiagnosis and inappropriate medication, seclusion or restraint that in extreme cases can even be fatal.
“It is imperative that the black community has full confidence in the mental health services. We need a public inquiry to establish the extent of the problem, identify the extent to which institutional racism is the cause, and put in place robust measures to root it out.”