"Unconscious racial bias" exists within psychiatry, the largest body representing the profession has acknowledged in their first ever statement on racism.

The admission was made on the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists says it wants to "support psychiatrists in reflecting on their own perspectives, behaviours and the role unconscious bias can have on the care they provide, as well as supporting them to challenge inappropriate behaviours."

The three page statement, containing pledges and recommendations, has been published in advance of draft proposals for a new mental health act, which are expected in the coming days.

Challenging assumptions

"We need immediate and practical action to support the development of services in which staff are equipped to deliver culturally appropriate care tailored to individuals," the College's statement reads. "This should take account of their ethnicity and the range of other factors that make individuals who they are, as well as challenge any assumptions that patients from Black and Asian minority ethnic groups need the same care based on their race."

Campaigners have highlighted the existence of stereotyping  and bias in psychiatry previously. The current and ongoing review of the mental health act has partly been commissioned to address the fact that black people are four times more likely to be detained for their mental health than the white population, with various factors playing into the disparity. Minorities are also five times more likely to be diagnosed with psychotic disorders.

The College says it wants to play its part in raising awareness among its 18,000 members of social disadvantages disproportionately affecting minority groups. It notes evidence from the Equality and Human Rights Commission that reinforces what is already widely perceived, that an individual from a minority group is more likely to experience poverty, to have poorer educational outcomes, to be unemployed, and to come in contact with the criminal justice system: all risk factors for developing a mental illness. Despite the increased risk factors, minorities are statistically less likely to receive access to preventative services.

The College adds it wants to "work with NHS England to promote effective training for NHS organisations to monitor and address factors that put Black and Asian minority ethnic groups at a disadvantage." The statement contains little detail on diversity training specifically, although an "action plan" is promised to support psychiatrists through all stages of their careers.

The College calls on the Government's Department of Health and Social Care to "work with other government departments, professional bodies (including the medical Royal Colleges), charities, patients and carers to raise literacy on the impact of racism on mental health, and to provide leadership in implementing preventive interventions and actions."