Black Mental Health; A Spider’s Web.

Written by Olivia Halltman.  Edited by Donovan Thomas

In my professional experience as a Counsellor, Workshop Facilitator and 1-2-1 Mental Health Worker I have commonly come across the problems posed by Mental Health in western society and most specifically the issues relating to the African diaspora within that.

One problem is the continual misdiagnoses of so many black males who then go onto become entangled  in a system of stereotype, medication and  sectioning,  becoming to all intents and purposes stuck  in a spider web. A prison by any other name. These pervasive actions by the medical establishment stem primarily from ignorance of ‘alien’ cultures to the Western society, so rather than behaviour that is placid, ordinary and conforming, what is encountered is viewed as strange, aggressive and thus …dangerous. In effect their way of being in Western society does not always fit in, so often they are square pegs in round holes. It can lead to feelings of inferiority, persecution and even confusion with identity.

One of the biggest issues, however, is the reluctance to speak about African mental health and as a result so many facts are overlooked. The primary fact is that African peoples are fundamentally spiritual (a much desecrated word) and connected to ‘a home far far away’. There are some who do not feel any connection, preferring to highlight the empathy they may feel to a blue eyed royal German family and even bluer eyed religion but none the less, it’s in the blood, every bit as real as traits of sickle cell anemia.

So could the answer to a lot of problems faced by black sufferers of mental health , actually reside  in the‘otherness,’ recognising that they are indeed living in a society that was not created for their benefit  or that of their culture or descendants? Could it be that if the black community were to speak without embarrassment and prejudice about these things that we would clearly understand that the best way to deal with the vulnerabilities of living as part of the Africa diaspora, is in the history of the persons we see in our mirrors each day? Recognising, respecting and knowing our cultures, knowing our background makes us who we are at present and will be in the future.

There is still a lot of work to be done and sometimes it feels like a spider web getting bigger and increasingly harder to untangle…in truth it can be a great, great big mess, not knowing where the beginning is, let alone the ending.

But knowing yourself, your history and the society we live in we can grow stronger and stronger individually and as a community. The choice is yours, educate yourself and use it to your advantage.

Want to know more? Want to talk more about the above issues please contact me:

Olivia Haltman


“What happened then matters NOW”

Phone: 07577 565 218


Interesting facts • 

• Almost 10 per cent of mental health inpatients are black or mixed-race. But these ethnic groups make up 3% of the general population, according to the 2001 census. • Black people are three times more likely to be admitted to psychiatric hospitals in England and Wales than the rest of the population.
• Black people are up to 44 per cent more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act. • They are twice as likely to be referred to mental health services by the police and courts as the rest of the population. Black people are less likely to be referred by their GP than white people. • Within psychiatric services black men are about 50 per cent more likely than average to be put into seclusion


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