Race and mental health talk stirs emotions

Deep emotions were stirred when consultant psychiatrist, Dr Aggrey Burke, addressed a public meeting in Brent on Race and Mental Health on Tuesday 19th April.

Dr Burke, former senior lecturer and consultant psychiatrist at St George’s Hospital, London, was speaking at the Learie Constantine Centre, Willesden, at an event sponsored by Brent Mind and Brent Patient Voice (see earlier post).

Recalling his origins in Jamaica and his coming to England in the late fifties, Aggrey Burke reflected on race, ethnicity, class and trauma as a deep background to the well known statistics which show that young black men may be five times more likely to be diagnosed with severe schizophrenia than similar men from other groups. In spite of a lifetime studying these issues he felt there were no easy explanations – or quick remedies in sight.

He suggested that slavery and the estate culture which it promoted, along with weak family structures, were possibly relevant. At the same time he revealed figures which showed marked differences according to where and when migrants from the Caribbean were educated. He was unsure whether it was useful to bracket arrivals from far separated islands as if one ethnicity – “Afro-Caribbean” explained everything.

His talk provoked a lively but highly serious discussion, noting how some young people had progressed through education to very successful carers, while others still faced enormous challenges which the mental health system was struggling to address.

The  audience of nearly 60 people from Brent and beyond also heard about Brent Mind’s ARISE project on this same topic and the film Behind the Locked Door which had its premiere on 29 April.

Speaking later BPV Chair Robin Sharp said “Brent Patient Voice was pleased to co-operate with Brent Mind on such an important topic. We were gratified by the interest shown.”

Robin Sharp


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