Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. All lives of all colour, shapes, and sizes – matter.

This pandemic has taught us many things. But most importantly, it has taught us the fundamental value of life, and mental wellbeing.

There is no denying that prolonged exposures to racist treatment can have a fatal effect on one’s mental health. A lot has been researched and discussed on this already.

So how are the psychiatrists dealing with racism in their own workplaces?

About 6 months back more than 100 UK psychiatrists had written an open letter to their representative body to eradicate institutional racism from the profession.

The letter read, “for the Royal College of Psychiatrists to be able to advocate for the marginalised in society, it must first put its house in order. And root out all examples of institutional racism and colonial mentality in its training curricula and various practice guidelines.”

Following this, The Royal College of Psychiatrists is now calling for urgent action to tackle mental healthcare racism.

New research from the Royal College of Psychiatrists reports Six in ten (58%) Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic psychiatrists have faced overt or covert racism at work. However, only 29% of these incidents get reported.

The incidents that do get reported have one thing in common. All the psychiatrists from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic background who’ve experienced racism say that it affected their health. And four out of ten doctors have mentioned, the racist treatment they have faced has had a cascading effect on their patients or carers.

To tackle the problem, the College calls for mandatory training covering the impact of unconscious bias on decision-making and structural inequalities explicitly for all mental health staff.

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“It’s clear that prejudice and discrimination are deeply embedded across society, and sadly, even in healthcare. We need to empower mental healthcare staff to report racist incidents while offering assurances that decisive action will be taken when they do.

“No one should ever have to suffer racism and discrimination at work. It affects not only the carers and doctors but also the patient care they can provide.”

The College recently published an Equality Action Plan to combat structural barriers faced by psychiatrists and trainees throughout their careers and day-to-day work.

Dr Lade Smith CBE, Presidential Lead for Race Equality at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“Everyone should be treated fairly regardless of sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, gender status, religion or any other characteristic. Prejudice and the discrimination that stems from it are inherently wrong. These can lead to profound distress and unhappiness, which negatively affects mental wellbeing.

“It’s time to act and put equity at the heart of mental healthcare. There is no quality without equity.”

Dr Arghya Sarkhel, however, raises caution about the hyper-sensitive treatment of this matter.

He says, “There is no denying the fact that racism is one of the biggest evil today, in all walks of life. But one should not rush into labelling too soon. Sometimes trainees can choose to hide behind this sensitive issue, instead of trying to perform better. From a team leader’s point of view, I can say, these days we are having to mince our words very carefully. We fear being misunderstood. Alternatively, someone might try to defend his poor performance by playing a victim.”

Dr Sarkhel is a Consultant Psychiatrist with over 25 years of experience in Mental Health services. He is on the Specialist Register of General Medical Council and a member and Fellow of The Royal College of Psychiatrists.

He also maintains that throughout his UK career, both in NHS and practising privately, he has never felt discriminated for his ethnicity or colour. When he first started his career as a consultant with the NHS, he was the only non-white leadership role in his team.

“The moment any staff complains about other staff regarding the racism issue, there’s a series of protocols that kick in. By the time the investigation ends, irrespective of the outcome, the alleged staff tends to get labelled as racist. Nobody ever talks about this side of the story”, says Dr Sarkhel.

Taking actions and investigations should always be a priority for the concerned body or organisation on complaints such as this. That is why, thinks Dr Sarkhel, that one should take a step back and really perceive things from a logical angle.

Interestingly, more than half of 233 psychiatrists from a BAME background say in a survey taken by the College, that reporting a racist incident resulted in no change.

Whether you have any skin in the game or not, one thing is for sure, that as we’re crawling through the other side of the dark tunnel of lockdown, our love for NHS only grows stronger. And we have every reason for that. Albeit today the whole world is taking the subject of racism rather seriously. But how readily and effectively NHS is handling the matter, is exemplary.

We want to know what you, the readers of Asian Sunday think about this.