This World Mental Health Day focuses around the theme of Mental Health in an Unequal World.
The diversity of the workforce is critical across all levels and all professions. Currently the configuration of the workforce in mental health is very similar to the configuration of our world, an unequal world.
Alongside this we need to be able to equip the mental health workforce to understand the conditions in which people from different communities experience different treatment in their day-to-day lives. This is really important in mental health service provision so that we better respond to the realities of their lived experiences and effectively attend to their needs.
If we have an unequal workforce, then we will not be able to combat an unequal world. When we are in positions of power, we need to use that leadership to support the transformation of the workforce to advance Mental Health equalities.
My role as Health Education England Mental Health Equalities Advisor is to support the organisation’s mental health programmes in advancing mental health equalities.
We recognise the magnitude of the challenge of embedding the equalities agenda in the work that Health Education England does for the mental health workforce.
In my role I am focusing on five key workstreams to help advance mental health equalities.
These workstreams include improving career pathways and opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds, developing inclusive communications to ensure we are reaching out to communities that might not see mental health as a profession for them.
We also want to retain a diverse workforce by ensuring people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds continue to want to work in mental health.
We are embedding equalities thinking in all mental health disciplines to ensure that we have a shared language when we talk about equalities and the actions the workforce needs to take to reduce mental health inequalities. This responsibility applies individually, and within teams and organisations.
Finally, at Health Education England we are developing mental health guidance to support our own equality impact assessment. We don’t want to miss the opportunity to integrate and embed equality, and attention to inequities, particularly for those whom may experience detention when they are at their most vulnerable. In practice this means making the workforce fit for the purposes of a 21st century high quality mental health service provision.
It has been challenging pushing forward this agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that ensued.
At the same time the exposure of inequalities that are experienced by diverse groups every day, as illustrated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on minority groups, has made Health Education England commit to addressing these issues more urgently and its enthusiasm to engage with this agenda is palpable.
We can no longer be blind to these realities, and we have needed to look at whether our workforce is equipped to deal with our diverse population’s real-lived experiences and the impacts upon their mental health and wellbeing. Equipping the workforce in a way that is anti-oppressive, anti-racist and anti-discriminatory is what Health Education England is about. It makes me hopeful that the seeds we are sowing are going to flourish.
In the 18 months that I’ve been with Health Education England one of my proudest achievements has been around addressing the barriers for people to access psychological professions.
This has been achieved in a number of different ways including mentoring and additional investment. We also looked at what the key barriers were for people from diverse backgrounds entering the profession.
We came up with an action plan to improve access and inclusion for people of BAME backgrounds to enter psychological training.
This revolved around a series of key commitments that involved leadership commitment, anti-racism education and a curriculum review for Black, Asian and ethnic minority trainees, which included creating mentors and an improved selection criteria.
We are looking to expand these commitments across a range of roles in the mental health profession by looking at the barriers and challenges that create inequalities.
We will be keeping a close eye on the data and will monitor if these interventions help to create a different profile to the workforce than we have previously experienced. We will achieve this by taking on systemic issues that prevent people from diverse backgrounds progressing with their careers and will ultimately benefit the populations that we are serving.
At Health Education England we are committed to manifesting our commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality in our mental health workforce.
My own experience of mental health challenges has been the driver in wanting to support improvement for mental health service provision.
I am the carer of three siblings, two of which have died. The question I always ask is what if the workforce had greater training to be more supportive of my brothers which might have meant they would be here today.
It is my hope that the work that we are doing at Health Education England will mean that no other families will have to go through what my family has been through because we will have a workforce that is fit for the purpose of supporting individuals with severe mental illness through the reality of their complex lives.