In the aftermath of George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of Minneapolis police on 25th May, Black Lives Matter has gained momentum on a global scale. What could be the largest movement in US history has, in turn, led to vital community action against deep-rooted systemic racism in the UK, too.
Black Minds Matter, a charity whose mission is to create a safe space for Black people to be offered mental health support by Black therapists, is doing just that. Agnes Mwakatuma and Annie Nash co-founded the organisation in June, after noticing the mental health of Black people around them was deteriorating at a rapid rate.
“These issues were bringing out so many different emotions: built-up anger, sadness and unprocessed trauma patterns amongst the Black community,” says Mwakatuma. “We want to enable Black people in the UK to have access to free mental health support.”
Indeed, said support for Black individuals in the UK has long been sorely lacking.
The Mental Health Foundation highlights that unemployment rates for 16 to 24-year-olds are highest for people from a Black background – which contributes significantly to poor mental health – while Black minority ethnic individuals are 40 per cent more likely than their white counterparts to come into contact with mental health services through the criminal justice system.
In March 2018, the Royal College of Psychiatrists released a report which recognised racial discrimination within the UK’s healthcare system and recommended appointing a representative charged with addressing race equality within the NHS.
While a significant amount of research has been undertaken around racial inequality in the mental health sector, these have rarely yielded significant or tangible results. Consequently, Black Minds Matter is tackling years of stigma around mental health, racism and discrimination, social and economic inequality – all of which leave Black people more vulnerable to mental illness.
With a pandemic and protests against racial inequality taking place around the world, the existing disparity within mental health services has only been exacerbated. Mwakatuma and Nash quickly realised that no significant change would take place unless they took matters into their own hands.
In just over a month, BMM has raised more than £470,000. “We are currently working in partnership with the Oxfordshire Community Foundation who has helped us manage these funds,” says Mwakatuma – so far, these donations have provided at least 700 x 12-week therapy courses for Black people in need.
“We refuse to set a limit on sessions,” she continues. “Every day we are met with the reality that this fund is a necessity, and we won’t stop fundraising until every one of the hundreds of people that reach out to us for assistance have been helped and seen.”
“Annie [Nash] has a background in mental health, so she has ensured we carry out the correct safeguarding measures – therapists being part of a board, having the right certificates, a recent DBS check, and most of all a true passion for assisting the Black community to address their trauma.”
The work that Black Minds Matter is carrying out is inspiring, and most importantly, accessible. An individual can select a therapist on the BMM website before filling out an assessment sheet, after which funds will be released to cover expenses.
The organisation also underscores how important it is for Black people to be seen by Black therapists, which helps ensure that trauma will not be misunderstood. In 2014, a report into Ethnic Inequalities in Mental Health found that mental health services can’t be effectively delivered without consideration of culture and identity.
One of BMM’s goals for the future is to sponsor aspiring Black therapists. “We would love to see more visibility for Black therapists in the NHS,” says Mwakatuma. “We hope to play a big part in positively changing laws around mental health, the effectiveness of treatments and the availability of mental health resources.”
Black Minds Matter has already had a hugely positive impact on the world of mental health, establishing connections with arts and education charity Zinc and CEO of Beautystack Sharmadean Reid. “Oh, and we would love to shout out Exist Loudly, a new organisation founded by Tanya Compas – it’s a London based hub for queer young Black people,” says Mwakatuma.
Black Minds Matter exudes a powerful community spirit, and one thing’s for sure: it’s here to stay. “This isn’t a project we can dip in and out of,” she continues. “We will be dedicating our full time to this until we are able to fulfil our mission. We are all in this together when it comes to fighting systemic oppression.”