Professor Dawn Edge is the Professor of Mental Health & Inclusivity and the Academic Lead for Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at The University of Manchester. Dawn’s research work is focused on Mental Health issues within the Psychology Department. In this role she leads research and community projects which challenge the racial inequalities that persist in Mental Health provision and support.
The State of Black Mental Health: Dawn Edge witnessed the extent of how Black people are disenfranchised from mental health services, through conducting a series of interviews at mothers and babies hospital wards during her postdoctoral research. “We don’t tend to see many Black women here” a nurse told her. Of course it wasn’t that Black women weren’t giving birth at that hospital, the problem was that they were not recommending the specialist care available to help mothers deal with postnatal depression and bonding with their babies. Dawn Edge found that the nurses were ‘colour blind’.
In a health service set up to deliver equality of care to anybody who comes through the door, this makes sense. But when there are cultural differences in how people respond to questions around mental health, colour blindness can result in Black mental health issues becoming invisible. The misdiagnosis of mental health issues leads to Black people being categorised through the ‘strong black narrative’, resulting in the denial of care they may need.
A Danger To Society: Through her research, Prof. Edge found that Black people may not be receiving the care they need, meaning many treatable issues remain undiagnosed. On the other hand, she also found a major problem of Black people being disproportionately over-diagnosed and over-medicated for certain mental health conditions.
Caribbean people are nine times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. For people from African backgrounds, it is six times as likely than a white British person. They are also given longer courses of medication to treat the same conditions. These points raise questions around how medical judgements intersect with race to reproduce racial disparities.
Nobody To Talk To, Nobody trained to Listen: Professor Dawn Edge builds on an earlier point on how Black people are less likely to communicate mental health issues through existing channels. In addition, when speaking to therapists, she explains how Black people often find they are not listened to or understood by professional therapists. Everyday experiences are not the same for Black and white people and so where practices are built upon deviating from the ‘norm’, there is warped ground from which to base decisions on.
“I feel like I get followed around shops” is a very common experience for a Black person. Whereas therapists may understand this as the patient perceiving something that is not real, as they can’t relate to the realities of a racialized experience. Dawn makes the point of how she finds it truly shocking that medical professionals are able to graduate from studies with no cultural education which evidently creates huge holes in the delivery of healthcare.