Mental Health Allyship

TW: Mental Health Discussion


In the UK, around 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 10 young people have a common mental health problem. Yet, the experience of mental health and access to support services is unequal.

Inequalities that exist in mental health are largely due to inequalities that exist in society. Identifying differently to the majority does not lead to mental health problems. But the experiences that underrepresented or minority groups go through, can affect the way that they experience their mental health. Oppression, abuse or discrimination against individuals or groups, such as: racism, classism, ableism, ageism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia; can lead to and maintain many mental health problems. Furthermore, a lack of understanding and sensitivity to the way that people identify, leads to inequality in diagnosis and support.

Facts and figures around Mental Health inequality

Research finds that various social factors put women at a greater risk of poor mental health than men. Women are often overrepresented in low income and status jobs, and are more likely to live in poverty. It is also a reality that women often take on more caring responsibility for others, with 72% of those seeking carers allowance identifying as women. Increased caring responsibilities can mean a woman might not prioritise their own wellbeing.

Furthermore, one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime. 53% of women who have mental health problems have experienced abuse of some kind. Physical and sexual abuse of women and girls can have a long-term impact on mental health. Due to fear or shame around reporting abuse, many people will not receive the support needed to manage the impact on their mental health. This can cause mental health problems to persist and worsen.

LGBTQ+

Members of the LGBTQ+ community are at a greater risk of experiencing hate crime compared to hetrosexual and binary people. People who identify with a minority gender identity are often most at risk of experiencing hate crimes and discrimination. Research shows that 83% of trans young people have experienced name-calling or verbal abuse; 60% have experienced threats and intimidation, and 35% have experienced physical assault.

Adverse experiences such as the above can worsen mental health. Mental health problems and suicidal thoughts are more likely to affect young people who identify as LGBTQ+ than those who do not. Yet, LGBTQ+ people are underrepresented in mental health support services:

  • One in seven LGBTQ+ people avoid treatment due to fear of discrimination.

  • One in eight LGBTQ+ people have received unequal treatment from health care staff because they are LGBTQ+.

  • One in two transgender people have reported that their GP did not know enough about trans-related care to request or provide it.

Minority Ethnic Groups

Research suggests that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people face additional inequalities and challenges to their mental health, such as racism and stigma.

  • Women from minority ethnic groups are more likely to experience common mental health problems compared to White women in the UK.

  • Black Carribean people are 7 times more likely to experience psychosis than White people.

  • Black/Black British people are four times more likely to be sectioned under the mental health act.

Yet, once more, people from Minority Ethnic groups are two times less likely to access mental health support than White people. Research shows that for people identifying with a minority ethnic group, there are different cultural perceptions around the presentation of mental health problems. Rethink highlighted how a lack of representation and understanding for cultural differences in support services, can lead to discriminative and culturally insensitive treatment.

Disability

People with a disability are more likely to experience a mental health problem. This can be due to:

  • negative life events (e.g. poverty, abuse),

  • the impact of other people’s attitudes (e.g. discrimination)

  • the access to fewer resources, services, coping skills and social support.

Mencap highlights that individuals with a learning disability are almost twice as likely to experience a mental health problem. Yet mental health problems are not always recognised in this population. There is a gap between mental health services and learning disability services. This means that the assessment of mental health symptoms can often be attributed to the learning disability rather than to a ‘true’ experience of a mental health problem. This can hinder diagnosis and prevent access to support. It leaves many people with learning disabilities unable to access the treatment they might need for a better quality of life.

Stigma and discrimination around Mental Health

People who experience mental health problems can often encounter stigma and discrimination. Stigma can cause someone to be seen, or to see themselves, in a negative way because of a mental health problem they experience. Discrimination means treating someone negatively or differently, because of a mental health problem they experience. For example, withholding a task from a colleague at work who has disclosed they have anxiety because ‘you don’t want to stress them out’.

The stigma surrounding mental health can prevent a person who is experiencing a mental health problem from talking to others. This can lead to isolation and can prevent individuals from accessing the social support or professional treatment they might need to feel better. Stigma perpetuates a fear of judgement - the concern of being perceived differently by others or being dismissed as unable to cope. And with understandable reason, as research shows that people with mental health problems can be less likely to: find work, have a stable relationship, live in appropriate housing or feel included in social and mainstream society.

How can I be a Mental Health Ally?

Being a mental health ally means taking action to support other people who may be struggling with their mental health, even if you yourself do not experience a mental health problem. This means supporting and making the effort to understand another person’s experience of mental health. Then using your voice alongside theirs, to support their rights and challenge misconceptions.

Educate yourself and others. Educating yourself about mental health can mean correcting unhelpful stereotypes and being aware of your own unconscious biases towards mental health. It can mean calling out other people’s misconceptions and understanding how intersections of identity (such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, class) can affect the experience of mental health and the access to support. Being a mental health ally means understanding what the experience of mental health can be like for other people. It’s ok to ask questions if you aren’t sure about something. But be mindful that for a person struggling with their mental health, it can be emotionally draining to explain this at times.

Be considerate with language and labelling. Defining or labelling a person by a diagnosis can be stigmatising. Society has stereotyped views about mental illness and how it affects people. Diagnoses such as OCD are often stereotyped to revolve around cleanliness - but this is just one example of how OCD can manifest. Different people will experience the same mental health problem in different ways. Likewise, some diagnoses such as Psychosis have negative stereotypes like ‘violence’ or ‘danger’ attached, due to media portrayal. Therefore, using terms such as ‘They’re just OCD’ or ‘She’s Psychotic’ can result in that person being seen or treated differently, in line with stereotypes or misconceptions about a mental health problem. Try to see each person, or yourself, as an individual who finds different ways of coping with and experiencing events that happen.


A person is not their diagnosis.

Engage in conversations about mental health. Ignoring mental health doesn’t make it disappear. Be open, share your story or encourage other people to share theirs where they are comfortable. This can help to de-stigmatise what it means to experience a mental health problem. It can help by opening up conversations that benefit the mental health and wellbeing of everyone. It might help someone to seek the support they need to improve their quality of life. Mind provides stories and information about people’s experiences of mental health here.

Be compassionate and listen without judgement. You might not always be able to understand what another person is going through. Being compassionate, empathetic and non-judgmental can be enough. You don’t need to fix things for someone else - provide a safe space for someone to talk freely and a place for calm in a time of distress. Compassionate statements to use might be:

- ‘That makes sense, given [what you experience/xyz]’

- ‘I can see what you mean, thanks for enabling me to see things from a different perspective’

Ask how you can best help. Sometimes, only the person themselves knows how you can best help them in that moment. This might be looking for a resource or providing a listening ear and reassurance that things will be ok. A supportive question like: ‘I can see you’re finding things tough at the moment, is there anything I could do to support you right now?’ can help.

Remember, however, that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Maintaining boundaries and looking after your own mental health is important. Find information on how to seek support here and visit the bottom of this page to explore a range of support services that are available.

If you feel like your life is at risk right now:

  • call 999 for an ambulance,

  • go straight to A&E if you feel able,

  • or call your local crisis team.

If you can't do this by yourself, ask someone to help you.



My name is Jess, I am a data analyst and feminist, who is passionate about social justice and mental health. I have a strong interest in improving the understanding of mental health and the access to support. As women, we experience inequality often - it’s important that no person feels alone with their experiences and knows where they can turn if they need support. Raising awareness of the issues that affect us and what can be done to make a change, is a conversation I would like everyone to be involved in.



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