Friday June 22nd marks the 70th anniversary of the crossing of passengers from the Caribbean aboard the SS Empire Windrush. One cannot talk about the recent Windrush scandal without making intrinsic historical structural links to racism and mental health.

It is well-known that the causal links of mental ill health include stress, traumatic experiences, abuse, isolation, poverty, rejection, poor housing, lack of employment, bereavement and so on. 

Society’s mental health can also be best measured by the just and equal treatment of its citizens through the way its institutions operate.

"Multiple fractions of ongoing traumatic incidences mirror the chaotic episodes of mental health disorders."

As racism is the embodiment of inequality and discrimination through its institutions, an open door lies for certain groups of people being more susceptible to mental ill health than others – in this case the African-Caribbean community.

Know the history

African-Caribbean people came from a history of slavery and plantations. Families had been wrenched apart; one's religion abused; black women were systematically raped; black men were demonised; forced to speak a foreign language; robbed of their names and kept in bondage for hundreds of years.

One of the most significant aspects of slavery was the psychological colonisation of an African consciousness and culture, with the insidious acceptance of the colour white as the yardstick of hierarchy.   

The legacy of slavery still has remnants today (often described as ‘post traumatic slave syndrome’), embedded in British society through racism, and executed through the fruitful expression of institutions that hold power and exert control over aspects of African/Caribbean and Black British lives. 

One of the clearest indicators of institutional racism is the exclusion of African/Caribbean members of society from positions of control, leadership, influence and power. It may be covert; it may be the racism of omitting to recognise the African/Caribbean’s existence; it may be through the abdication of responsibility or marginalization of one's needs.

Nevertheless, racism has infected the consciousnesses of both individuals and institutions in this society; a consciousness which is now informed by the prejudices, myths and negative stereotypes which systematically discriminates.

People from the Windrush generation faced these issues. They up-rooted from their homes in the Caribbean, leaving behind loved ones and the familiarity of their culture and country on the invitation of Britain with the hope of finding a better life. The hope they sought was in stark contrast to their expectations of the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ but instead was met by the harshest forms of overt racism.

The Windrush welcome

The climate of Britain was not ready to embrace anyone who was different: “The Other”. This was the era of “Sorry no coloured; No Irish; No dogs”. The harrowing stories of being spat at; excluded from the mainstream; not accepted; not wanted; laughed at; physically and emotionally abused. The stories told are horrific. Professional ‘talking therapy’ has only just been recognised as a valuable tool today. The only alternative for this generation was to unite and share common experiences.

Yet despite all this, this generation stood the test of time. They helped build up the National Health Service and London transport and earnestly shouldered the jobs that nobody wanted. The Britain of today is as a result of yesterday's Windrush generation.

The recent, ongoing outrageous oppression of the Windrush population being targeted and denied health services; shipped out of the country with no redress; having to prove their status... Words, in my view, cannot convey the desolation endured and the righteous anger felt.

I am of the opinion that multiple fractions of ongoing traumatic incidences mirror the chaotic episodes of mental health disorders making African/Caribbean people more susceptible to high levels of stress.

Accessing professional services has always been shrouded in suspicion due to negative experiences and being misunderstood. The public, horrendous exposure of the ongoing removal, in the most undignified manner, of hard working people from the population of the Windrush generation is nothing less than criminal.

The execution from the government of this action certainly would not instill any confidence in attempting to access professional services, particularly mental health services, which again drives mental health underground. Racism, in all its manifestations, is executed with hideous finesse.

One cannot begin to analyse the present without examining the past. The past is forever in the present.

Ekanem Hines is the director of So U Think i'M Crazy and a former social worker with over thirty years experience working in mental health.

Image: The SS Empire Windrush arriving from the Caribbean on 22 June, 1958.

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