Black patients’ first contact with mental health services is more likely to be coercive


It is well documented that there are differences in how patients are treated, depending on their ethnicity. Previous inquiries in the UK have suggested that the NHS is institutionally racist (Blofeld et al, 2003). Some groups, for example those from African Caribbean or Aboriginal descent, experience more coercive care and poor outcomes, including higher doses of psychotropic medication, more detentions under the Mental Health Act, increased length of stay, and more secure placements (NHS Confederation, 2012).

Therefore, first contact with mental health services is incredibly important in retaining trust and preventing coercion, but also in enabling timely and effective support towards recovery. It is known that more coercive routes to care increase the likelihood of people disengaging from services, and prevent opportunities for recovery in those with a history of contact with mental health services.

A new review by Anderson and colleagues aims to examine ethnic differences in pathways to care for first episode psychosis in developed countries.


The authors conducted a systematic literature review of Medline, HealthStar, Embase and PsycINFO. Literature was included in line with inclusion/exclusion criteria. Meta-analysis of data produced odds ratios with the Metan procedure. The analysis focused on three specific pathways into care:

  1. GP involvement
  2. Police involvement
  3. Involuntary admissions


  • 8 papers of 7 studies were included (2 from Canada, 5 from UK)
  • Compared to White patients:
    • Black patients had a decreased likelihood of GP involvement (OR = 0.70, 0.57 to 0.86)
    • Black patients had an increased likelihood (twice as likely) of Police involvement (OR = 2.11, 1.67 to 2.66)
  • Black patients may be more likely to have involuntary admissions, however the analysis wasn’t possible
  • There were no statistically significant differences for Asian patients
Compared with White patients,

Compared with White patients, Black patients were more than twice as likely to have Police involvement during their pathway to care for first episode psychosis


The authors concluded:

Black patients are less likely to have GP involvement and more likely to have contact with police on the pathway to care, as compared to White patients.


The continued mistrust of mental health services by the Black community clearly impacts on their experiences of diagnosis and treatment. But more importantly if first contact with mental health services is the result of coercive measures a bad precedent is set for future contacts. Fast access to health care is clearly important, firstly it makes it less likely that coercive means will be used by mental health services, and undoubtedly leads to better opportunities for recovery.

The author’s don’t really unpick why these different pathways exist or are able to drill down in sufficient detail beyond the broad descriptors of Black, White, and Asian. However, previous studies have highlighted the institutional racism and differential treatment of the African Caribbean community, particularly those of second or third generations (CQC, 2011).


This study had a number of limitations:

  • The focus on GP interventions meant that only a small number of developed countries have produced relevant research
  • There was no analysis beyond Black, White or Asian groups. There is clear evidence of differences within these groups, particularly in those from African Caribbean descent
  • Most studies appear to have been historically underpowered
  • Finally, pathways to care are difficult to define and measure. The authors concluded that more qualitative research would be helpful in unpicking these differences in pathways to care


Anderson KK, Flora N, Archie S, Morgan C, McKenzie K. A meta-analysis of ethnic differences in pathways to care at the first episode of psychosis. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2014 Feb 28. doi: 10.1111/acps.12254. [Epub ahead of print] [PubMed abstract]

Blofeld, J. et al Independent Inquiry into the death of David Bennett (PDF). Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority, Dec 2003.

Race equality in mental health (PDF). NHS Confederation Mental Health Network, May 2012.

Count me in 2010: results of the 2010 national census of inpatients and patients on supervised community treatment in mental health and learning disability services in England and Wales (PDF). Care Quality Commission, Apr 2011.

Rehman H, Owen D. Mental health survey of ethnic minorities: research report (PDF). Ethnos Research and Consultancy, Oct 2013.

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John Baker

John Baker was appointed to Chair of Mental Health Nursing in 2015. John's research focuses on developing complex clinical and psychological interventions in mental health settings. He is particularly interested in i) acute/inpatient mental health services and clinical interventions; ii) medicines management in mental health care; iii) the attitudes and clinical skills of mental health workers, iv) the mental health workforce. The good practice manuals which he developed have been evaluated, cited as examples of good practice, and influenced clinical practice in the UK and abroad. The training package for patients, service users and carers to promote research awareness and understanding has been cited by the MHRN and NICE as an exemplar of good practice.

John is a member of the NIHR post-doctoral panel, sits on the Editorial boards for Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing & International Journal of Mental Health Nursing. He is a Registered Nurse Teacher with the Nursing, Midwifery Council (NMC) and is active within Mental Health Nursing Academics (UK).

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