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Mental Health: The Importance of Culturally Specific Understanding for Musicians Who Experience Racism

For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, this blog from charity Black Minds Matter UK explains the importance of culturally specific interventions for musicians who also experience racism.

Published: 10 May 2021 | 5:16 PM
A photograph which zooms in on a professional recording microphone, blurred in the background is a woman about to put earphones on and her open laptop computer.
BMMUK aims to enable as many black people in the UK to be able to access free mental health support in the form of therapy sessions. Photo credit: CreateHERStock

In 2016 Help Musicians UK published their survey results in a report titled Can Music Make You Sick?, which suggested that musicians may be up to three times more likely to suffer from mental ill-health compared to the general public.

This can be compounded for musicians who also experience racism, who are less likely to receive help, more likely to need it, and may need culturally specific understanding, knowledge, and safety.

There are many reasons for culturally specific mental health resources

When receiving help, it’s important that musicians who experience racism:

  • Have culturally specific interventions because without being a part of a particular culture you can only have an objective opinion on someone's experiences of racial trauma.
  • Feel like the person we are speaking to about mental health is likely to have experienced something similar, particularly in terms of racism.
  • Feel like there is less of a chance we are going to be discriminated against for the colour of our skin.
  • Have a safe space where we feel heard and understood.

When it comes to mental health there is so much research to suggest Black people are less likely to receive treatment than their white counterparts. That we are more likely to be misdiagnosed, mistreated, and even rejected from receiving mental health support.

People also note they have been wrongly identified in terms of their ethnicity, which can be particularly problematic in therapy for example things such as cultural separateness, distinct histories, and potentially immigrant experiences.

As well as these issues previously mentioned, which negatively impact our mental health, to add to this, we have to deal with the trauma that comes from seeing the unjust killing of black people across social media, the difference in the reaction of black people going missing in comparison to white people, the recent statement claiming that systemic racism does not exist in the UK.

These are some of the many reasons we need to make sure Black people are able to access culturally specific mental health resources.

There are also issues surrounding the stigma around mental health, particularly in black communities, which can impact the likelihood of Black people seeking help with their mental health – due to feeling ashamed, or as though it is a weakness to be hidden, rather than a health problem that may require some form of treatment such as therapy. Which is another reason why it is important to have culturally specific interventions, as it can help destigmatise the discussion of mental health as well as emphasise the importance of looking after it.

Black Minds Matter UK’s main focuses for 2021

This is why Agnes and Annie put together Black Minds Matter UK (BMMUK), after noticing the mental health of the people around them deteriorate at an alarming rate. They noticed issues such as Covid-19 and the unjust killing of black people in America were bringing out so many different emotions from built-up anger, sadness, and unprocessed trauma patterns amongst the black community.

They wanted to enable as many black people in the UK to be able to access free mental health support in the form of therapy sessions.

Our main focuses for 2021 and beyond:

Addressing the lack of representation in psychology and therapy

Only 9.6% of qualified clinical psychologists in England and Wales are non-white, in contrast to 13% of the population. Statistics specific to Black therapists in the UK are not publically available. This presents a wider issue in terms of there being a very limited number of healthcare professionals who share the lived experience of the Black community, available in both public and private mental health services.

We plan to address this issue by helping to fund and support aspiring Black therapists in the UK and develop a training programme to encourage a greater number of Black individuals to practice psychotherapy, therefore breaking down some of the walls of access. 

Influence the NHS to improve its connections with Black therapists

The issue of representation also needs to be addressed within public health services in the UK. We plan to apply pressure to the NHS to ensure there is sufficient access to Black therapists within hospitals in the UK and resources available that are relevant to the Black community.

Help and support the Black trans community in the UK

We’ve recently partnered with The Black Trans Foundation – a UK-based Black trans-led nonprofit organisation, offering free four month courses of therapy to Black trans & NB people aged 16+. As part of this partnership, we have funded ten, four-month courses of therapy for those on the waiting list (equivalent to around £10,000) to help our shared community access support.

We want to continue expanding and developing this partnership so that we can support the most marginalised voices in our community as much as possible.

Improve accessibility of Mental health resources for Black people

We want to improve the accessibility of mental health resources for Black people to encourage more people to seek help during the early stages of an illness and help prevent crisis care treatment as much as we can.

Begin to conduct our own research in Black mental health in the UK:

Research on Black mental health is massively underfunded, which is why we think it’s important to begin to gather our own data from our community in the UK so that we can pave the way for the future of Black mental health.

Connect with and get support from Black Minds Matter on their website.

Support Black Minds Matter

We have also recently launched our biggest fundraising campaign so far! The 21k challenge involves us aiming to find 21,000 long term donors of £5 per month and help change the face of Black mental health in the UK,

This goal would guarantee an annual income of £1.2 million and cover the cost of 1500 courses of therapy every single year. Helping those on our waitlist access the support they need as soon as possible.

It will also help us to fund and grow our BMM team allowing us to create a lasting impact on the face of Black mental health. Even if you can't commit to a monthly donation, a one-off donation is still an incredible way to get behind our mission.

Visit the Black Minds Matter UK website for more information on our mission, or go directly to the donation page.

Resources from the Musicians’ Union

Read our Mental Health Support Page for further resources, organisations and services for musicians.

Join one of our Equality Networks. Network members receive regular updates on our equalities work via newsletters, as well as the opportunity to contribute to MU consultation responses and take part in surveys.

Take our Diversity Monitoring survey. The information you supply helps make the MU better by allowing us to develop services at the right people. And, as always, it won’t come back to you personally. You can fill out the survey here.

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Photograph of Andi Hopgood sat at the front of a lecture hall, talking into a microphone. Behind her, a large screen displays the MU logo.

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