BMH UK point out that this development is particularly important to people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities, as this group continue to be disproportionately over represented amongst those who are subject to detention under the Mental Health Act even though there is not higher rates of mental illness amongst this group.
The recent spate of high profile deaths of black men while in need of mental health care, while in psychiatric hospitals and at the hands of the police has again made this issue headline news.
Although there has been at least 30 years of campaigning by on this issue, it took a House of Common’s speech tabled by Charles Walker MP in December 2013 on ‘black deaths in custody’ to bring this issue to the heart of parliament.
This move came on the back of Black Mental Health UK’s campaign against black deaths in custody, which was launched in the wake of a disturbing spate of healthy men from the community who tragically lost their lives while in the care of either mental health services or the police.
This new inquiry will look at suicide, homicide, unknown and accidental deaths of people in psychiatric hospitals, prison and police custody in England and Wales, to identify what can be done to help prevent more tragedies.
According to official figures 215 people died in prison last year – the highest number since records began. Of these 74 were suicides. There were 98 non-natural deaths of people detained in psychiatric hospitals and almost half of those who died in police custody in 2012/13 had mental health conditions.
Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said: ‘This announcement by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission makes it clear that the work of BMH UK and other organisations concerned at the numbers of preventable fatalities occurring within psychiatric settings, particularly of physically health black men is now on the mainstream agenda. Achieving this has been no mean feat.
BMH UK are clear that there is a need for through and objective scrutiny of the factors driving the disproportionate numbers of black people subject to detention under the Mental Health Act, as well as the lethal levels of force that has been used against this group, which has led to far too many high profile preventable fatalities.
The issue of the treatment of people in relation to race and ethnicity needs to be prioritised in this inquiry if it is to bring about the wholesale transformative change that is needed in many of the practices that take place in these settings.’