The Prevent duty: Counter-terrorism in an age of Islamophobia

Conference

The Prevent national conference, featuring the NUS’s Malia Bouattia on the mic. Shouts to the big head crew obscuring the shot.

Recently, I attended a conference in London about the Prevent duty, how it might be Islamophobic and the way in which it could infringe on everyone’s civil liberties.

What is the Prevent duty?

Those of you who work in schools, university and other public services have no doubt heard the word ‘Prevent’ crop up fairly regularly across the past year. But what does Prevent actually mean? The Prevent strategy was initially conceived under Tony Blair’s New Labour as a response to the 7/7 London bombings in 2005. These days, the Prevent duty tends to refer to Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. Section 26 states that public sector organisations such as schools, NHS trusts and local authorities  are required to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. Specifically, these organisations are required to keep an eye on people using their services and report anyone who they believe might be vulnerable to terrorism.

Why is Prevent problematic?

So far so good, stopping people being drawn into terrorism is a positive thing, right? Well, you may be surprised to hear that Prevent is pretty problematic in its application on the ground. In the first instance, police statistics indicate that 57.4% to 67% of people referred under Prevent come from a Muslim background. So there’s a pretty big issue with religious/racial profiling here. Take Mohammed Umar Farooq, who was a Terrorism, Crime And Global Security MA student at Staffordshire University. Mohammed was seen reading a terrorism studies textbook in his university library and was subsequently questioned by staff about his views towards homosexuality, Isis and al-Qaida. Although he responded reasonably and expressed opposition to extremism, Mohammed was referred to university security officials under Prevent.

Incidentally, Prevent’s loose definition of ‘extremism’ includes the expression of non-violent opposition to political views (e.g. British foreign policy). Schoolboy Rahmaan Mohammadi found this out when a special constable at his school started hassling him for wearing a ‘Free Palestine’ badge. Rahmaan also wanted to raise money for families affected by the 2014 military assualt on Gaza. However, he was told not to use the word ‘Palestine’ on flyers, to use images of olive branches instead of Palestinian children and to use a quote from a Christian poet instead of a Muslim poet. None of which really makes any sense. In fact, this sort of advice simply acts to shut down the sort of charitable fundraising Rahmaan was attempting and, in all honesty, is very discriminatory.

Oh yeah, in case you’re in any doubt, the current police lead for Prevent recently spoke out against Prevent as an undemocratic programme that is creating “thought police”. Nice. Even the lead for Prevent thinks it’s problematic.

So how does Prevent affect me?

If you’re a Muslim, I imagine it’s pretty clear how Prevent affects you. For those who aren’t Muslim, it’s pretty shocking how the government is treating British citizens. Moreover, if you work in the public sector, your government has made it a statutory duty for you to spy on the people using your services. That’s right. If you’re a doctor, then alongside shift work, endless admin and unpaid extra hours, Theresa May also wants you to do a bit of sneaky surveillance on the side.

Even if you don’t work in the public sector, Prevent will ultimately affect you. Prevent is very concerned with anyone displaying political dissent. In fact, Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, has been identified in Prevent training sessions as an example of an ‘extremist’, presumably on account of her grassroots environmental action around important issues such as climate change. Let’s imagine you’re not very happy with the result of the upcoming EU referendum (aka Brexit) and express some annoyance about this. Under Prevent, you’re an extremist and someone should probably refer you, just in case. Is this really the sort of society we want to build?

Okay, what can I do about Prevent?

If you’re shocked by Prevent (which I hope you are!), there’s a number of ways in which you can do something about this. The NUS already boycotts Prevent and is currently running an excellent campaign. Many trade unions are organising action in this area. In further and higher education, the UCU have this guidance. In other public services, Unison have issued this. And for the teachers among you, the NUT recently backed a motion for Prevent to be scrapped.

Naturally, you might want to take a more hands on role. Groups such as Stand Up to Racism and Muslim Engagement and Development have proven effective in organising local action, so it’s worth looking into who’s active in your area.

Finally, one of the best ways to express your concern is to inform others about Prevent. Have a chat with your colleagues and children. Collective voices carry more weight than individual voices – together we can prevent Prevent!

An uplifting end to Refugee Week 2016

Over the past week, I’ve written about three people – Sami, Xiu and Tesfay. I’m aware that none of these stories were particularly uplifting. Of course, negative experiences are a daily occurence for many refugees and people seeking asylum. On the flipside, there are also many positive stories among these communities. One of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met was a refugee living happily in the UK. He assisted with the legal aspects of immigration casework, spoke four languages fluently (including English) and was loved among the Levantine, Kurdish and Iranian local communities. His story has most certainly involved hardship, but is also one of success.

The kids are alright

Behnam, the man I describe above, is middle-aged and has had some time to settle and enjoy his life in the UK. At the other end of the age spectrum, there are many child refugees who have travelled to the UK unaccompanied and are trying to carve out their own stories. I have the pleasure of working with an especially energetic group of children from a variety of countries (primarily Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan). These lot are so jokes! They are all incredibly friendly, big smiles all around, and they can even tolerate my shocking ability to kick a football in any direction but the right one.

On Friday night, they performed a play in the British Museum at front of an audience of about 50 people (and, trust me, they were not expecting 50 people). They were legit hilarious, with bang on comic timing. Nadir got a big cheer for a cheeky bit of improv satire about how much he hates school, while Omar had the audience in hysterics as he got out his ‘new phone’, which was a late-90s style brick. At the same time, they were all able to convey a genuine emotional sense of what it means to be a young person all alone in a big city, having fled a warzone. What I’m trying to say is, these kids are pretty cool cats, and it’s a joy to get beat playing pool with them.

Refugees welcome!

This post draws us to the end of Refugee Week. If you’ve enjoyed or been moved by any of these posts – and even if you haven’t – I would really recommend getting to know some of the refugees, migrants and people seeking asylum in your local area. Community is essential for the well-being and mental health of all us – you may be surprised by the sense of local integration you feel as you start to talk to others in your ends. There’s plenty of opportunities about, from full-on 7 hour advice-giving shifts, to just taking a moment to have a cup of tea and a chat. It’s as simple as having a look on a volunteering database, or typing “volunteer with refugees” plus your local town in an online search.

In these dark times of European nationalism and the populist far-right, there is plenty of shit to get depressed about. This means that it’s more important than ever to help others feel welcome and comfortable in their new communities. Do it for them, do it for yourself, do it for everyone.

‘Behnam’, ‘Nadir’ and ‘Omar’ are pseudonyms – their names have been changed to preserve their anonymity.

 

 

 

Tesfay’s story (Refugee Week 2016)

Yesterday, I told you about Xiu and on Tuesday you heard about Sami. Today, I’ll share the story of Tesfay, a young man from Eritrea.

Tesfay’s story differs from those of Sami and Xiu, in that he had already been granted leave to remain when I first met him. On the whole, Tesfay was getting on fine. He had experienced the usual uncertainty that follows the imminent loss of accomodation and financial support after receiving refugee status. However, with the help of local organisations, he’d received his biometric residence permit and National Insurance number relatively quickly. Luckily for Tesfay, he’d made friends with some other Eritrean men when he’d initially arrived and was living in private accomodation with them. Even better, Tesfay’s English was coming along well and he’d also managed to find some casual employment. So far, so good.

An unexpected visit

Unfortunately for Tesfay, things took a sudden downwards turn when he returned from work one day to find the police searching his house. Tesfay had no idea what was going on here – he hadn’t committed any crimes – and was naturally shocked by this. Matters were made worse when Tesfay and his housemates were all arrested and taken down to the police station. Disgracefully, the police had neglected to explain what was happening to any of the guys they had just arrested. Instead, they decided to explain this to the boys’ solicitor. While, in principle, a solicitor is best placed to understand her clients’ legal situation, this was understandably distressing for Tesfay and his housemates. They had no idea what they were being implicated in and feared the worst. To add to their woes, the police also confiscated the mobile phones of all arrested individuals, pending a court hearing.

Paranoia and despair

This was the extent of Tesfay’s understanding when he explained all of this to me. After talking to his solicitor, it transpired that a woman had alleged that one of the housemates was harrassing her. For reasons unknown, this meant that the privacy of each of the housemates was violated – all rooms searched, all guys arrested and all mobile phones locked away. Apparently this was all a formality and normality would resume if the innocent parties attended their court hearings, where their innocence would be confirmed. If that sounds a bit Kafkaesque, it gets even better. Tesfay’s bail conditions stated that he could not contact or see the victim. The only problem here though, was that Tesfay had no idea who the victim was.

This is where the story becomes seriously fucked-up. Tesfay explained to me that he was terrified of unwittingly seeing the victim and being arrested again. What if she knocked at the door and he answered? Would he end up in prison permanently? Tesfay also explained to me that the whole incident had made him very anxious about his job. How could he sign-up for shifts if he couldn’t contact his employer on the confiscated phone? And worst of all, Tesfay was experiencing an overwhelming sense of paranoia. His room had been searched by uniformed strangers. Those same uniformed strangers had then arrested him without explaining what was going on. As a result, Tesfay was experiencing insomnia and pangs of fear whenever a car pulled-up close to him outside of the house.

Third-class citizens

In my opinion, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that violating the privacy and civil rights of a refugee may have deeper repercussions for that person. I don’t know the details of Tesfay’s asylum case, but a precondition of a successful claim is that the individual was being persecuted. As Tesfay spoke to me and explained what had happened, I looked into his eyes and saw the dark chasm of someone who had lost their soul and was terrified of existence.

The point here is not that the police should have given Tesfay and his housemates preferential treatment. Instead, they should have treated them as they would have anyone else – with a respectful explanation of what was happening prior to the solicitor’s involvement. More broadly, Tesfay had been recently granted refugee status and was, by all accounts, integrating well into UK life. Although there were no criminal implications for him, Tesfay’s mental health may have been seriously affected by this episode. Unfortunately, this will most certainly affect how he continues to settle and is deeply unjust for a vulnerable man who had done nothing wrong.

‘Tesfay’ is a pseudonym – his name has been changed to preserve his anonymity.

 

 

Xiu’s story (Refugee Week 2016)

Yesterday, you heard about Sami’s journey from Iraqi Kurdistan to the UK. Today, it’s the turn of Xiu, a young Chinese woman.

I met Xiu for the first (and only) time during a busy four hours on a summer’s evening. Xiu was with a rather panicked Chinese man, who explained to me that she was pregnant. Xiu herself spoke no English at all and was in a lot of discomfort, meaning that her situation was largely relayed to me through a very patient intepreter and the man that came with her, Zhang.

The kindness of (Chinese) strangers

Xiu had initially been staying with a Chinese family locally. This family had seen Xiu on the streets and, out of kindness, offered her somewhere to stay. As Xiu had come closer to childbirth, the family had made the difficult decision that she would have to move out, as they could not support a mother and her newborn baby. This was when Zhang had come across Xiu looking rather disoriented on the city streets. Naturally, he was concerned that a young pregnant woman was alone on the street, so he spoke to her and discovered she was homeless. Zhang is incredibly selfless. In fact, I initially assumed he was the father of Xiu’s baby, but it soon emerged that he’d only met her hours earlier. Nonetheless, he stayed with her well into the evening and offered her comfort and support while she was surrounded by people speaking a foreign tongue.

An uncertain past

But back to Xiu. Through a series of phonecalls to the Home Office, an interpreter and other organisations, it became apparent that Xiu was not staying in the UK on a visa and did not have a claim for NASS asylum support. This meant that there was no immediate solution to where she might stay until she went into labour. By doing some more detective work, we figured out that Xiu had first entered the UK to work for someone she was connected with in China. It seems that this individual had encouraged her to claim asylum, but state that she had accomodation and finances to support herself. At this point, I have to speculate, as Xiu understandably did not want to talk too much about her prior experiences. However, I would imagine that Xiu was involved in exploitative illegal work and had been trafficked into the country, perhaps as a ‘modern slave’. The fact that Xiu became pregnant may give some indication to the work she was doing and also explains why she was then kicked out on to the streets by her ’employer’.

An unkind system?

If Xiu had been able to speak English, she might have been able to contact the relevant authorities and receive the necessary support once she was made homeless. Unfortunately, this was simply not an option for Xiu and it made her life considerably more difficult. In order to be sorted with some sort of emergency accomodation from the Home Office, Xiu would have needed to account for how she was financially supported up to that point. This would have entailed signed letters from the people she had stayed with, which was impossible in the few hours we had. Consequently, we made the decision to contact the local authority. Owing to various rules and regulations, the local authority also had no immediate obligations to help Xiu. Luckily, I spoke to a very sympathetic clerk, who, with a bit of convincing, was able to provide temporary shelter in a hotel, alongside a social worker and interpreter.

Asylum claims are rarely black and white

The point of this story then, is to highlight the inherent complexities within the asylum system. Xiu was unable to receive direct support from the Home Office, even though she should have been eligible for it at this incredibly vulnerable time. However, as I hope you can understand, Xiu’s mistake was completely unintentional and hardly her fault. If Xiu had known how to claim asylum properly, she would have been in a much more comfortable situation.

In fact, Xiu’s inability to make a proper claim may in part be related to the austerity cuts made recently to a number of services. With legal aid largely slashed and funding for English classes heavily diminished, it’s hardly surprising that Xiu was unable to equip herself with the required skills to negotiate our asylum system. Which makes it all the more laughable when David Cameron claims that migrants, and not his government, are at fault for a lack of integration in British society.

‘Xiu’ and ‘Zhang’ are pseudonyms – their names have been changed to preserve their anonymity.

Sami’s story (Refugee Week 2016)

Today I’m going to tell you a story about a young man called Sami. Sami grew up as an Arab in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he lived a (relatively) normal life until things started to kick off with ISIS in early 2015. His family were murdered by ISIS, who also told him that he wasn’t Islamic enough and that they were coming for him next. Around the same time, Sami was also told by Kurdish militias that since he only spoke Arabic, it was better for him to not stick around in Kurdistan for much longer.

The road out of Iraq

With his life under threat from the armed groups in his area, Sami released he needed to escape. The way Sami put this to me is that he “just started walking”. This was a confusing journey for a young man who had just reached adulthood and had never left Iraq – he recounted crossing borders through Turkey and Hungary, for example, and not really understanding what was happening. This guy only spoke Arabic and he was travelling among large groups of people, but always alone. His main memory from this period is seeing police and immigration officials as he moved across the continent and being waved through; being told to keep on walking.

Settling in to the UK

Eventually, Sami arrived in the UK. This was not a specific choice or decision – Sami had simply kept on moving when he had been told to by the authorities, and this culminated in his arrival over here. After making an asylum claim, Sami was dispersed to a town in the North of England, where I first met him. I can remember very clearly the first time I met Sami. He’s an attractive man with a youthful naivety and, owing to his complete lack of any English at that moment in time, he’d fucked up majorly and was liable for arrest and detention. You see, as someone seeking asylum, you do get some shared accomodation and a few quid to spend each day. What you don’t get, is someone clearly explaining to you in your native language that if you don’t report to a centre in another town every few weeks, your asylum claim will end up in a bin and you’ll end up in a cell. Anyhow, with the help of an Arabic speaker and my own body language, I was able to communicate to Sami the urgency with which he needed to report to immigration officials. All was good; Sami did what was required of him.

A few weeks went by and I saw Sami every now and then. The guy is full of such warmth and we always had a chat – his English was constantly improving and he’d also been dating a British girl and trying his best to settle in to UK life…

A deeply disturbing episode

A couple of months later, Sami came to me looking visibly distressed. In these situations, I had been told to get on with the task at hand and not to ask about emotions. But I’m a human, so I ask. By this point, Sami’s English was very clear and fluent, pretty impressive for a guy who didn’t understand a single word I said when I’d first met him in the not so distant past. The previous week, Sami had been walking across the town centre in the early evening. Some British guys shouted something at him, but he ignored it and kept walking. The next thing he knew, Sami was in a hospital bed being told by a nurse that he’d just lost a litre of blood and had 20 stitches in his head, which had split upon. Sami had been set upon, unprovoked, by a group of 10 men who beat the shit out of him and left him lying in a pool of his blood. He was literally left for dead.

The physical scars of this assualt were fucking horrendous. Even worse though, were the psychological scars. I believe at this point that Sami was likely experiencing what British doctors would describe as severe anxiety and depression. Sami told me he was paranoid of leaving his house, as he felt certain he would be attacked again. His British girlfriend was deeply concerned – he was worried to leave the house even with her. And it doesn’t end there. As a result of trauma to his brain, Sami was experiencing forgetfulness and kept struggling to remember the names of his family members. This more or less brought Sami to tears. The point at which I almost cried was when Sami told me how he kept hearing British people say the words “fuck off” to him. He had initially assumed this was some common greeting or pleasantry, perhaps like the phrase “thank you”. By the time Sami was telling me this, he had come to understand what “fuck off” actually meant.

Don’t believe the asylum hype

So what is the point in me telling you this story? In the first place, I believe strongly that we all need to connect with others and hear their stories. This is especially the case for marginalised groups, who are often silenced under the sea of stereotypes that are screamed at us by the stronger voices in society. Specifically in relation to Sami, I want to give you a more true understanding of what it might mean to seek asylum, an understanding that shows how life in the UK can also entail lethal dangers for vulnerable individuals.

‘Sami’ is a pseudonym – his name has been changed to preserve his anonymity.

 

Refugee Week 2016

Today is the start of Refugee Week. Over the next few days, there’ll be plenty of events happening in your area, but I thought I’d switch it up on the blog too – keep an eye out for a few stories from people who are refugees/seeking asylum across the week.

Let me tell you a story about a man named Nigel*

Actually, seeing that we’ve got an EU referendum coming up on Thursday, I’ll kick things off today with a story! Step forward Nigel Farage, the privately-educated ex- City broker, current leader of UKIP and noble voice of the working man. Ever since he was a boy, young Nigel had dreamt of stardom. He’d spent nights rehearsing lines for the school production of Fiddler on the Roof, but his teachers just wouldn’t cast him, something wasn’t quite right. In a bid to be cool, Nigel had taken up smoking fags and sneaking off for cheeky lunchtime pints of ale. Again though, poor Nigel’s classmates wouldn’t have any of it! So no-mates-Nigel spurned the opportunity to go to university and off he went seeking fame and fortune in the City…

…the problem was, Nigel is a racist and xenophobic knobhead. Having alienated his co-workers, Nigel thought he’d found his natural bedmates in the Conservative Party. But even they weren’t nasty enough! So, Nigel decided he wanted a slice of political power via leadership of UKIP. He got to work on this and when the time came for him to seize power, the British popular press were more than happy to help him out. You see, if there’s one thing the British press hates, it’s humanity. And this suited Nigel very well. For years and years and years, the ever impartial editorial teams at The Sun and Daily Mail helped Nigel on his road to stardom by printing IMMIGRANTS at any and every given opportunity.

*this story is mostly unsubstantiated rubbish, but that’s never stopped Nigel.

As a result, most people now know fuck all about what the word ‘refugee’ actually means. So to kick things off this week, here’s a quick guide to asylum terminology.

Asylum seeker (aka a universal human right)

An asylum seeker is, quite simply, someone who is seeking asylum and has therefore made a claim for asylum with the Home Office. The broad reason for why someone can claim asylum is usually related to persecution in their home country. Importantly, the right to seek asylum is defined as a human right by the UN. And this right is enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Conventions to which (you’ve guessed it!) the UK is a signatory.

In practical terms, once an adult has made a claim for asylum, they receive NASS support and accomodation from the British government, if they can’t provide their own accomodation (e.g. through friends) or finance themself. Living in NASS accomodation means being uprooted to any part of the UK, living with people you don’t know and receiving little support from the private contracters (e.g. G4S) who often run the accomodation. Living on NASS support means receiving around £37 per week via the Post Office. Also bear in mind that to receive NASS support you need an ID card of sorts, which is generally not supplied immediately and can take weeks (or months) to chase up and receive.

Refugee (aka it’s a miserable life)

If someone’s asylum claim is approved, they are granted refugee status. Quick note: around 60% of asylum claims are rejected and, upon appeal, around 30% of these are subsequently approved. So this process is by no means a quick one. I’ve met people who have received a positive decision in weeks and others who are still waiting for a decision over a year down the line. In the first instance, refugee status is usually granted for 5 years. Naturally, being granted refugee status is great news. However, there’s also some bad news that comes with it – NASS support ends after 28 days. So rather than staying out on a NASS-fueled two week bender, most new refugees are in a frantic struggle to sort out NI numbers, get to the Jobcentre and, most importantly, find some accomodation. As we all know, housing is in short supply on this great island, and refugees are not given any preferential treatment here.

Of course, if someone with refugee status can overcome the initial difficulties and barriers, they can generally start working, socialising and settling in to UK life.

Oh yeah, here’s a few fun facts: (1) 63% of refugees live in camps in their home country; (2) Europe accepts the lowest number (6%) of refugees globally; and (3) the countries that host the most refugees are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan. I’m sure you all remember Nigel and the Leave team bringing up these stats in their debates around immigration.

Illegal immigrant (aka deliberate misinformation)

Did somebody say ‘immigration’?! Let’s talk about illegal immigrants! The first and most important point here is that ‘illegal immigrant’ is a massive misnomer and a bit of a myth. In an ideal world, people seeking asylum would form an orderly queue in their home country, fill out their forms and wait for Theresa May to get back to them. Obviously, this expectation is fucking stupid because if there’s a civil war going down or your government is politically persecuting you, you don’t really have much time to hang around doing admin. Therefore, the act of entering a country to claim asylum is usually illegal. However, the act of claiming asylum itself is very much legal and a human right. In fact, Article 31 of the 1951 Geneva Conventions specifically protects refugees who have entered a country illegally from being prosecuted for doing so. So don’t be fooled by Paul Dacre on this one.

It’s also worth pointing out that some people living in the UK will be undocumented non-EU nationals who are not claiming asylum. If this is the case, the individuals in question won’t receive any NASS accomodation or financial support from the government. So why would someone do this? The mostly likely answer is that they have been trafficked and are having their labour, emotions and lives exploited. The reality is, being an illegal immigrant is not all the Daily Mail cracks it up to be and it’s undesirable for nearly all individuals.

Migrant (aka anyone really)

“Why are you talking about illegal immigrants?”, I hear you say, “That’s so last year, everyone talks about migrants now”. For sure, a funny thing happened when the British public suddenly became sympathetic to Syrians fleeing war – the media started using the word ‘migrant’. To be honest, I find ‘migrant’ a really odd word, in that it’s so generic. The truth is, we all are, have been or will be migrants at some point.

All of the above groups I’ve defined? Migrants. Those annoying Americans in suits who I overhead at Canary Wharf last week on the tube? Migrants. My sister, who is from England and works in Scotland? A migrant. My friends who are French nationals and work in the UK? Migrants. I could go on, but it’d be quite boring. Basically, if you’ve ever been to another country for more than a few weeks and weren’t on holiday, you’ve probably been a migrant.

And, for me, being able to move between countries for work, asylum or just a bit of fun is a good thing.

Mental health, intersectionality and the need for more diverse representation

The weekend before last, I went to a DIY Cultures talk in Rich Mix called “Radical Mental Health: Fanon, Laing, Decolonising, Demedicalising”. The speakers discussed the work of the intellectual and revolutionary Frantz Fanon, alongside that of the progressive 20th century psychiatrist R. D. Laing, in the context of mental health.

I was particularly moved by the final speaker, Guilaine Kinouani, who told the story of a service user who was instutionalised, effectively as a result of his psychiatrist refusing to understand that mental health can be constructed in alternative ways in different cultures. Guilaine was keen to emphasise the importance of integrating indigenous cultural understandings of mental health into Western psychiatric practice. Indeed, she supported this by referring to the World Health Organization (WHO) studies which suggested that mental health outcomes (specifically, among those experiencing symptoms related to ‘schizophrenia’ and/or psychosis) are better in the Global South than the Global North. So, her argument went, by introducing alternative ways of thinking into Western psychiatry, outcomes might improve for those experiencing mental health issues. This could especially be the case for those from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background, who are over-represented in psychiatric hospitals.

A story…

This got me thinking about a similar story that a junior doctor friend of mine told me about his time on a psychiatric ward in East London. The in-patients on the ward were largely black men from the surrounding borough. One of the men often referred to himself as ‘king’ of the ward. My friend, who is also a black man, was aware that other men on the ward were scared of the ‘king’ – he recognised that perhaps this man had some kind of street credibility and reputation outside of the ward. Unfortunately, the older white male psychiatrist recognised the ‘king’ as experiencing ‘delusions of grandeur’, which led to him being detained for longer. Ultimately, this was a misdiagnosis and it would not have led to any significant improvement in the man’s mental health.

For me, this highlights the importance of intersectional understandings in our approach to mental health (which was also discussed at the DIY Cultures event). My friend does have a level of privilege, however he grew up in a neglected area of South London alongside family and friends with a lower socio-economic status (SES). On the other hand, the psychiatrist was a middle-class man from Dulwich.

What next?

So, this is not just about understanding how mental health symptoms might be experienced differently by black men, but also understanding the wider systemic issues that black men with a lower SES might experience and how these issues might manifest themselves on a psychiatric ward (or lead to more black men with a lower SES being referred to psychiatric wards in the first place).

Are we any closer then to a system that is better equipped to assist diverse groups? In psychology, at least, it would appear not. Although they do not record SES, the latest figures for trainee clinical psychologist applicants show that 13% of applicants were from a BME background and that 7% of BME applicants were ultimately successful. Considering that over 11% of the UK population are from a BME background, we may have a while to wait yet…