Sunday 10 October marks World Mental Health Day: a global initiative, supported by the World Health Organisation, which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues and to mobilise efforts in support of mental health. This year's theme is Mental Healthcare for All: Let's Make it a Reality which aims to highlight how certain groups in society are adversely impacted by an increased risk of poor mental health and lack of access to quality mental healthcare particularly, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also aims to highlight positive initiatives and new innovative ways of providing mental healthcare.
Inequalities in healthcare are nothing new. In the UK and around the developed world, inequalities in society are replicated with inequalities in mental health – both in terms of access to services and to increased risk of poor mental health. Some groups of people in society have far poorer mental health than others, often reflecting social disadvantage. In many cases, those same groups have less access to appropriate support for their mental health, and when they do get support, their experiences and outcomes are often poorer.
There are many groups – identified with protected characteristics under the 2010 Equality Act – who experience unequal outcomes with their mental health. Examples include:
- 23% of Black or Black British people will experience a common mental health problem in any given week. This compares to 17% of White British people.
- People who identify as LGBTIQ+ are between 2–3 times more likely than heterosexual people to report having a mental health problem in England and have higher rates of common health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
- Children from the poorest 20% of households are four times as likely to have serious mental health difficulties by the age of 11 than those from the wealthiest 20%.
- Women are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and make suicide attempts than men. But men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
- Men and women from African-Caribbean communities in the UK have higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, and diagnoses of schizophrenia.
- Over a quarter (26%) of young women aged between 16–24 years old report having a common mental health problem in any given week. This compares to 17% of adults.
Around 40% of people in England who have overlapping problems including homelessness, substance misuse, and contact with the criminal justice system in any given year also have a mental health problem.
As well as these unequal outcomes, there are many groups who struggle to access the mental health support they need. The reasons behind this unequal access can be complex – just as mental health conditions can be complex – but the barriers to getting the right support are present.
According to NHS Digital, only one in three people who experience mental health problems can access the support they need. This access is not equally distributed across the population and the tragedy is that those in the greatest need are often those who have the greatest difficulty in accessing mental health services.
Although these issues are prevalent across several protected characteristics, it is clear that ethnicity is a huge determinant in the level of access to support. For example:
- Black adults are the least likely ethnic group to report being in receipt of medication for mental health or to receive counselling or therapy.
- Black people in the UK are less likely to have the involvement of a GP following the first episode of psychosis than white people in the UK – and are more likely to experience police involvement in their first interaction with mental health services.
- Black and minority ethnic people are 40% more likely to access mental health services via the criminal justice system than white people.
- Black men are more likely to have experienced a psychotic disorder in the last year than white men and black people are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than white people.
There is a wide range of barriers for black and minority ethnic communities accessing mental health care in the UK. Some of these include a lack of knowledge around mental health care or different cultural attitudes or ideas about mental health within some communities. There is some evidence that suggests that black and minority ethnic communities are at comparatively higher risk of mental ill-health and disproportionately impacted by social determinants associated with mental ill health, including poor housing and/or levels of employment and income. From accessing treatment to receiving mental health support, through to assessment and treatment, inequality is ever-present for black and minority ethnic communities in the UK.
How Digital Innovations Can Help
There’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of bridging the gap between mental health needs and access to mental health services, especially for minority groups who face greater barriers to support than most. World Mental Health Day provides a timely reminder of these barriers and challenges. Innovative solutions, including digital mental health programmes offered by SilverCloud can really help. Our programmes empower users to better self-manage mild to moderate mental health conditions and wellbeing.
People from all backgrounds can access digital support 24/7, often from the convenience of their own home, without facing the stigma and other barriers that face-to-face mental health services can produce. We provide scalable access to more people whilst helping to meet the diverse needs of different population groups and delivering results comparable to traditional face-to-face therapy.
Supporting more than 500 customers and over 780,000 users, SilverCloud brings nearly two decades of direct clinical research on digital delivery of mental and behavioural health together with easy-to-use technology to improve access and outcomes for users and their families. Designed to address the needs of large, diverse population groups, SilverCloud gives organisations a smart, measurable, impactful, modern way to invest in the health and happiness of their people.