'The term Positive Steps is an important one. The words and the actions coming from services must be positive. There is only so long that we can talk about the problem before talking about it gets in the way of tackling it.'

Let's start with the key principle: mental health care should be based on need. And if any person or group is at high risk, we should do more to reach them. If they are reluctant or suspicious, we should do more to reassure them.

High rates of mental illness have been found in ethnic minorities for decades, particularly in African and African-Caribbean communities. The same high rates are not found in the countries where these communities originated, suggesting that there is something about the experience of minorities in this country that puts them more at risk.

Put bluntly, life for many in BME communities is making them ill. Urban living, social exclusion, poverty - these social factors are known to be linked to mental illness. They are also burdens borne disproportionately by the BME population. If you add in the corrosive psychological impact of direct and indirect racism, the message is clear. Dealing with these high rates of illness is something that society as a whole has to face up to.

So is the NHS free of responsibility for redressing the balance? No, mental health services may not be the cause of the problem but they are crucial to the solution. There is more that services can do to understand and engage their local communities, and to offer responsive care. Without that effort, we cannot overcome the mistrust that has been created by tragedies like the death of David Bennett.

The Government set out its blueprint for reform in 2005 - Delivering Race Equality, with its five-year action plan. It contains 78 specific steps based on three building blocks: more appropriate and responsive services; better engagement of services with their local communities; and better use of information and evidence.

We backed DRE with new resources, including£16m a year for 500 community development workers and£2m for 80 community engagement projects. At the last count there were about 160 CDWs in post - not enough, but capable of making a difference. And we're determined that the other 340 will appear as well.

The second wave of community engagement projects has just been selected, and in March we had the third Count Me In census. New training modules in cultural sensitivity have been designed and tested. Seventeen focused implementation sites for DRE are actively developing and spreading knowledge about what does and doesn't work.

In February, we launched Positive Steps, new web-based guidance that highlights some of the replicable and promising work going on across the country to understand care pathways better and to involve BME communities in planning and providing services.

The term Positive Steps is an important one. The words and the actions coming from services must be positive. There is only so long that we can talk about the problem before talking about it gets in the way of tackling it. There is only so long that we can own up to previous neglect before it starts to look like hand-wringing.

When the second Count Me In census was published a few weeks ago (and earlier, when it was leaked), the press reaction was universally negative. High rates of admission and high rates of sectioning, said the journalists and the commentators, were a sign of something rotten in the fabric of mental health care. DRE was failing.

But high rates of admission are inevitable if rates of illness are high. And section rates were high only because of sections imposed by the courts - where the alternative is prison. Once these were separated out, section rates were not high at all - in African Caribbean patients, they were low.

We have to stop tolerating the simplistic view that the problem is racism in front-line services. Otherwise, we will not engage staff in this crucial area of policy and we will not persuade BME patients to seek help when they need it. The message should be optimistic: DRE is not failing, it is just getting going.

Louis Appleby is national director for mental health.