Communication breakdown and cultural factors often create barriers to black and minority ethnic groups accessing mental health services, according to a new study. It also identified cultural factors, such as an inability to accept mental health problems and stigma, as reasons behind the challenges faced by BME groups.

Until such barriers are counteracted, BME communities will continue to miss out on mental health support, warned the study authors from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

Professor Anjum Memon, who led the study, said: “We already knew that mental health services are not meeting the needs of BME communities. “Our study has identified a number of barriers that these groups are facing – both from within their community and through the service provision process,” he said.

He highlighted hat the prevalence of common mental disorders varies markedly in different BME communities. For example, more than twice as many South Asian women are diagnosed with anxiety and depression as white women – 63.5% versus 28.5%.

Psychotic disorders are also more than 10 times more prevalent among Afro-Caribbean men than white men – 3.1% versus 0.2%. In addition, those from ethnic minorities less likely than their white counterparts to contact their GP about mental health issues, be prescribed antidepressants or referred to a specialist.

The qualitative study was conducted to determine perceived barriers to accessing mental health services among people from BME backgrounds, said the Sussex researchers.

They said two broad themes were identified as contributing to reduced access to mental health services – personal and environmental factors, and factors affecting the relationship between patients and healthcare providers.

Firstly, a negative perception of mental health issues, an inability to recognise and accept such problems, and a reluctance to discuss psychological distress and seek help among men.

Secondly, the study identified factors such as the impact of long waiting times for initial assessment, language barriers, poor communication, and inadequate recognition or response to mental health needs.

Others included a perceived imbalance of power and authority between service users and providers, cultural naivety, insensitivity and discrimination towards the needs of BME people, and lack of awareness of different services among both service users and providers.

Professor Memon said: “Our study not only identified key barriers that are relevant to BME population. “We need to engage people from BME backgrounds in the development and delivery of culturally appropriate mental health services, in order to facilitate better understanding of mental health conditions and improve access,” he said. “Alongside this, healthcare providers need training and support in developing effective communication strategies to deliver individually tailored and culturally sensitive care,” he noted.

He added: “In order to improve mental health literacy, raise awareness of mental health conditions and combat stigma among BME communities, we need to improve information about services and access pathways for these groups.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, was also presented at the Lancet Public Health Science Conference held on 25 November.

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