New training materials will help address inequalities in mental healthcare, writes Peter Ferns

Institutional racism is one of the most pressing issues challenging modern mental health services.

New race equality and cultural capability materials developed by Ferns Associates with the Care Services Improvement Partnership and the National Institute for Mental Health in England, as part of the Department of Health's delivering race equality initiative, show the complexity and extent of racial discrimination in mental health over the past 30 years. They focus on the key themes of compulsion, lack of prevention, poor diagnosis, inappropriate treatment, stereotyping and the effects of ignoring the needs of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

Changing practices

Evidence from the latest black and minority ethnic mental health census shows that the experiences of BME people has not changed significantly over the past 30 years.

So how can services begin to tackle such a complex problem?

The new training materials can provide one element of a 'whole systems' approach. However, training on its own will not have a significant impact unless there is a more strategic effort to tackle institutional racial discrimination.

There must be leadership and commitment from senior management to create the systems and structures of race equality.

If leadership on race equality is inadequate, capable practitioners will feel frustrated and disillusioned as they attempt better practice with BME people in mental distress.

Learning curve

Therefore, the new materials are designed not only for supporting practitioners' learning but also for embedding it in practical work under management supervision.

They also include templates that allow trainers to provide feedback to senior management about current practice.This offers a snapshot of the quality of local practice in BME mental health, creating a baseline for evaluating progress.

The materials are pitched at an advanced essential shared capabilities level, leading directly from module five in the foundation level of the shared capabilities materials. They consist of 12 interlinked teaching sessions, each around two hours long with a work task for each session.

The sessions can be delivered flexibly once a week or as three one-day workshops. We strongly recommend that prospective trainers undertake the trainers' programme first, as the subject matter and issues raised can be complex and evoke strong reactions. Even experienced trainers in race and culture have commented on how essential such training was for them.

The three main documents of the trainers' manual, participants' reader and practice development workbook can be freely downloaded from the website address below, along with other detailed discussion documents about the materials.

For more information, contact Peter Ferns on 0208 641 9358 or visit