In a year of more racist murders and a pandemic that disproportionately affects Black families, Black people’s poor access to mental health services has been magnified – BMMuk co-founder Agnes Mwakatuma explains
The unjust killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black people at the hands of police officers, as well as violent clashes between police and (often peaceful) protesters at subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, have dominated news and social media feeds over the course of 2020. While this coverage has inspired waves of worldwide support for BLM, it’s also had, in many cases, a harmful emotional impact on people that already have to deal with daily instances of racism and other forms of discrimination.
This is the backdrop that inspired the creation of Black Minds Matter UK (BMMuk), says Agnes Mwakatuma, one of the organisation’s founders. She and her co-founder Annie Nash envisioned: “an organisation where Black people can receive the healing that they deserve.”
Since Black Minds Matter began a fundraising effort to help Black people access mental health support back in June, the organisation has raised over half a million pounds, linking families with certified Black therapists, and paying fees for those most in need. “It’s important that Black people have access to quality mental health support,” says Mwakatuma, adding: “A lot of the mental health support that is available isn’t catered to Black people.”
Of course, recent events only add to the mental trauma – often termed “racial trauma” – many Black people experience as a result of living in a systemically racist society, a link that has been proven in countless studies. As the Mental Health Foundation reports, unemployment rates are also highest for 16 to 24-year-olds from a Black background, while Black families are most likely to have a weekly income of less than £400, according to UK government figures. Both have been linked to a significant rise in mental health issues.
“One of the main things for us is just making sure that Black people are put at the forefront of mental health support, especially during a time like this,” explains Mwakatuma. While BMMuk is partly achieving this through its fundraising drive, the organisation is also attempting to combat “the stigma surrounding mental health” in the community, and to break down existing stereotypes.
“For years, Black people have been viewed as these very strong beings. So mental health is something that a lot of people don’t think that they should be considering when they think about a Black human being.”
Black Minds Matter is also pushing for institutional change, encouraging institutions such as the NHS to get Black therapists on board, who can better understand the issues their Black patients are facing. Another step towards addressing the problem is simply giving it more visibility, Mwakatuma suggests, which BMMuk partly does by sharing insightful graphics and individuals’ stories via social media.
“More than anything, we need more Black celebrities, for example, speaking out about their mental health struggles,” she adds, referencing Michelle Obama’s candid discussion of her mental health in a recent episode of her podcast. “Instead of really crucifying these people, we need to be encouraging safer spaces for people to really talk about what they’ve been going through. We can’t expect any change if we’re not admitting to ourselves that we do need help.”
Watch Agnes Mwakatuma tell the full story of the organisation in the video above.