Sunday 24 April 2016

Race and Mental Health Talk Stirs Emotions

Dr Burke with Brent Mind CEO and BPV Steering Group members.
L-R Byron Miller, Dr Aggrey Burke, Peter Latham, Phil Sealy, Irwin Van Colle, Ruth Bradshaw, Lola Osikoya, Robin Sharp CB.

Deep emotions were stirred when consultant psychiatrist, Dr Aggrey Burke, addressed a public meeting in Brent on Race and Mental Health last Tuesday 19th April 2016.

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.

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 and highly serious discussion, noting how some young people had progressed through education to very successful careers, while others still faced enormous challenges which the mental health system was struggling to address.

The 60-strong audience also heard about Brent Mind’s ARISE project on this same topic and the film Behind the Locked Door which is about to have its premiere.

During the evening Brent Patient Voice, the new independent group that speaks for patients to the health service powers that be, held its first AGM and elections.

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