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Thursday, 11 January, 2001, 18:07 GMT
Black churches 'can help mentally ill'
Patient and nurse
Campaigners want more emphasis on 'spiritual' care
Health charities are urging more health services to make better use of black churches when caring for the mentally ill.

At a conference in London organised under the auspices of the King's Fund, health charities, church representatives and mental health workers gathered to work out strategies for a closer partnership.

The chair, Melba Wilson of the health charity, Mind, said the aim was to forge ties between black churches and health bodies.

She said such links which were vital to the welfare of many black mental health patients.

Melba Wilson
Melba Wilson: "Black people experience the harsher end of mental health care"

"They experience the harsher end of care and treatment: locked wards, more medication so spirituality and religion does play an important part of their lives in just being able to cope with those realities.

"It's important that statutory service providers do build the bridges with black service providers who are making those links with black and ethnic minority people," she said.

Better targeted funding

Kwame McKenzie, a consultant psychiatrist at University College Hospital in London, said the poor treatment of black mental health patients was well documented.

Recent studies have shown that black people born in Britain are up to 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and more likely to be assessed as violent.

They are also more likely than white patients to be treated with drugs and given electric shock treatments.

Dr McKenzie called on the government to target funding aimed at helping black mental health patients where it could do most good.

Kwame McKenzie
Dr Kwame McKenzie: Calling for better targeted funding

"I think the government is wasting money on a lot of hospital beds and on all sorts of things that haven't actually been proved to make any difference.

"What it's not doing is the things that help prevent mental health problems and that is build sustainable good communities and if the government targeted that then we could decrease the rates of illness in African and African Caribbeans in the UK," he said.

Dr McKenzie said more money should be channelled to churches and other voluntary black and ethnic minority organisations

"Drugs and counselling don't prevent anything but building better and more cohesive communities does prevent mental illness and that's not something the statutory sector does, that's something you'd expect the social sector to do, which does include churches."

Mistrust

Campaigners point to the New Creation Christian Centre in east London, as a successful example of bridging the gap between formal health care providers and the black churches.

Abraham Lawrence
Abraham Lawrence wants recognition of churches' work

A drop in centre for mentally ill people staffed by mental heath and social workers now operates once a week at the church in Leyton.

It has proved so popular there are plans to expand the service.

The church's senior minister, Abraham Lawrence, said health bodies should acknowledge the role of the black churches which he believed were better placed to detect mental health problems in the early stages.

"At the moment there is a big mistrust between service providers and the black community and therefore they tend to come to the church most often to share their problems.

So the churches can be a first point of contact and also a referral system for the service provider," he said.

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See also:

15 May 00 | Health
What causes mental illness
07 Mar 00 | Scotland
Project aims at ethnic minority men
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