African-Caribbean interactions with mental health services in the UK: experiences and expectations of exclusion as (re)productive of health inequalities

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Feb;56(3):657-69. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00063-1.


In the context of current concerns about health inequalities among minority ethnic groups in the UK, this paper addresses perceptions of mental health services among members of an African-Caribbean community in a South England town. Efforts to reduce health inequalities must take account of the views of local community members on the sources of those inequalities and on local health services. The statistical existence of inequalities in diagnosis and treatment of African-Caribbeans in the UK is well-established, supported by sociological explanations of these inequalities which centre on social exclusion in a variety of forms: institutional, cultural and socio-economic. However, detailed studies of the perspectives of local communities on mental health issues and services have received less attention. In this case study of community perceptions of mental health services, we find that social exclusion comprises an explanatory framework which is repeatedly invoked by community members in describing their interaction with mental health services. Interviewees assert that experience and expectation of racist mis-treatment by mental health services are key factors discouraging early accessing of mental health services, and thereby perpetuating mental health inequalities. We conclude that participation and partnership are vital means by which to generate both the objective and subjective inclusion that are requirements for an accessible and appropriate health service.

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / psychology*
  • African Continental Ancestry Group
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Caribbean Region / ethnology
  • Communication
  • Culture
  • England
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology*
  • Mental Health Services / standards*
  • Minority Groups
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Organizational Culture
  • Prejudice*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Isolation*
  • Socioeconomic Factors