Mental health research has the potential to make life better for everyone. It can provide insights and opportunities for improving mental wellbeing for all of us - but only if it is being carried out in a diverse and inclusive way. Currently, there are some big issues in the way that mental health research is handled in the UK and a significant lack of awareness about the way this is having an impact. To ensure that our mental health research is as diverse as possible - and can have the broadest reach - there are some big changes that need to be made.
Using the right terms makes all the difference
It’s not possible to effectively measure diversity in mental health research if the terms that are being used are not appropriate. The most common categories that appear in this type of research - alongside age and other demographics - are race, ethnicity and ancestry. Unfortunately, these terms can frequently be used incorrectly and sometimes even interchangeably in research. This can have the impact of confusing outcomes, muddling diversity and even perpetuating racist narratives. Racial categories, for example, are a societal construct that emerged during the Colonial era and which actually use no biological measures. They tend to be based on visible characteristics and are, arguably, the invented product of racism. Ethnicity has similar problems, especially as there is no shared definition of what ethnicity is and grouping tends to take place around cultural expression and identification. Ancestry might be the most objective of these terms as it comes from the geographical origin of populations. However, the borders that we place around this are again the result of a social construct so it, too, can be problematic.
How to measure diversity in mental health research
- Rethink the vocabulary that is being used. As mentioned above, the current terms that are frequently used in mental health research are largely inaccurate and don’t have much basis in biology. Using these categories in the wrong context overlooks this lack of biological input and reinforces the idea that they are valid. Certain terms, such as ‘Caucasian’ come directly from a racist classification system and should be avoided. We also need to reconsider the use of race, ethnicity or ancestry as ‘risk factors’ in mental health because there is no evidence of a causal link between ethnicity and mental health problems.
- Review how the data gathered is being used. For example, using the term Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) pools together a number of groups but this isn’t useful in terms of using data to help those groups or reflect the true situation, which could be different for each of them. Researchers should do more to try and address the different identities that individuals can hold, reflecting a range of factors including privilege and disadvantage. Using consistent categories across mental health research could also be transformative when it comes to measuring diversity.
Like most areas of our world today there are systemic prejudices, biases and disadvantages which give us cause to think harder in order to overcome. If we are going to be able to accurately measure diversity in mental health, reviewing the terms we use and the language we use and the way we work with the data we gather would be great places to start.
We have a strong ethical stance in running our CPD Counselling Courses. We expect every participant, tutor and member of The Grove to embrace our Diversity and Respect Statement at all times.