Birmingham community projects boost young African Caribbean men’s wellbeing, says new Centre for Mental Health report

5 July 2017

The Government should create a new ‘Concordat’ for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Health to promote community-based projects that will support young people’s wellbeing and resilience, according to a report published today by Centre for Mental Health.

Against the Odds is an evaluation of three Birmingham-based Up My Street community engagement projects that received funding from Mind and support from The Integrate Movement between 2015 and 2017 to improve the resilience of young African Caribbean men. The evaluation was funded by Comic Relief and was carried out in partnership with young men from the African Caribbean community.

Against the Odds finds that the three projects boosted young men’s mental health through participation in activities such as drama, exploring black history and community work.

The Up My Street projects reached out to young men offering a range of relatable and inspiring male role models and creating culturally informed and safe spaces for events. They gave young men experiences of working together to co-produce activities that helped to strengthen their self-esteem, self-belief, personal development and skills. They conveyed a positive picture of black self-image, black history, heritage and culture. They built an atmosphere of brotherhood and unity among those involved. And they created opportunities for mentoring that enabled young men to broaden skills and help younger people in the community.

Against the Odds finds that a number of the young men participating in Up My Street lived in communities with fewer educational, economic and employment opportunities. Many had experienced the ‘wear and tear’ of everyday racism and discrimination. It concludes that these may be key explanatory factors in why black men have higher levels of diagnosed severe mental illness than other ethnic groups in the UK.

The report warns that ongoing cuts to youth services have particularly affected these young men and their access to positive, inspiring role models. And it finds that increasing access to community support, educational and employment opportunities and tackling the attritional effect of racism are all vital to achieving race equality in mental health.

Against the Odds calls on the Government to establish a ‘concordat’ to bring together the organisations that need to work with communities to address the stark inequalities in mental health that young black men face in the UK today. It also calls on the Government to prioritise action to promote mental health in schools, including on the curriculum and in Ofsted inspections.

The report says local partnerships should be set up to find new ways of boosting young men’s wellbeing, tackling inequalities and preventing later problems. It calls on NHS trusts to create more opportunities for young black men to become mentors – for example using apprenticeships as a route for training and development. It recommends that local authorities, schools, health services, Police and Crime Commissioners, Jobcentres and other local bodies should pool resources to fund projects like Up My Street. And it says that all organisations seeking to improve young black men’s mental health need to invest time and effort to build trust and work ‘arm in arm’ with communities.

Report co-author Lorraine Khan said: “Working alongside young men to evaluate the Up My Street projects has unearthed many of the stresses that undermine the mental health of young black men growing up in Britain today. Self-esteem and self-belief are too often achieved ‘against the odds’.

“We know that at the age of 11 black boys’ mental health is no worse than that of their white peers. Yet in adulthood black men are much more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and more often detained under the Mental Health Act.

“We need to act now to ensure young black men have a better chance of good mental health now and in the future. A concordat could generate the necessary action across government and in local areas to create a fairer future for young black men.”

Report co-author and Centre for Mental Health peer researcher Alex Augustine described the impact of the Up My Street projects: “Up My Street has affected the mental health of young black men in a positive way. Everyone in the room has love for each other. Everyone agrees that mental health in black culture needs to be spoken about, that young black men should have these platforms to get together, hash out their frustrations, and empower each other.

“I didn’t foresee how much an effect being involved in the project would have on me, how much it would inspire me and give me hope, which is really quite powerful. It’s made me resilient.”

Read the report here

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