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Culturally sensitive support – the value of Dial House @Touchstone

Dial House @ Touchstone opened its doors 1st October 2013. The service is a partnership between Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service and Touchstone, and was opened to address the fact that people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME – we know this term isn’t ideal and are exploring alternatives) backgrounds do not generally access community mental health services, though they are significantly over-represented in psychiatric units and prisons, and in the wider criminal justice system.

There is also huge mistrust of mental health services by BAME communities. This is not surprising, when they are much more likely to be sectioned, diagnosed as schizophrenic, and over medicated if they are e.g. Black.

As an organisation, we are sometimes asked why we provide a service that “excludes white people”. We’ve done so because of the above reasons. We feel that systemic racism leads to people from BAME communities struggling to access services and having their issues misunderstood. Of course, there can be significant barriers to access for white people also – services are often under-resourced, with long waiting lists. But people from BAME groups face these problems and much more: a lack of cultural insight and understanding; a lack of equality and opportunity; unconscious bias; and often outright, hostile racism.

Although we provided crisis services before DH@T existed, our Dial House service worked with unacceptably low numbers of BAME visitors – only 3% of overall visitors, when BAME groups in Leeds actually make up 15% of the population. But since DH@T has opened this number has gone up, so we now feel we are better meeting the needs of the diverse groups that make up Leeds.

DH@T is a partnership with Touchstone because they have been providing services for more than thirty years and specialise in supporting people from BAME communities. So, DH@T combined the expertise of LSLCS in providing out of hours crisis care, and Touchstone being a credible, respected provider of services to BAME communities has helped this service to evolve and now to gain longer-term funding.

It is an important part of DH@T that all the staff who work there are from BAME groups. This model is the provision of a culturally specific service at DH@T and a bridge to Dial House, as the staff who work at DH@T also work at our Dial House service. Given that it can be really hard to access services, the culturally-specific space of DH@T just makes it that bit easier for people to reach out for support. We are really committed to maintaining this and are very proud that just under 50% of our staff at LSLCS are from BAME backgrounds. LSLCS, with its survivor-led ethos, will continue to be an organisation that challenges power structures in the mental health system and aspires to better meet the needs of marginalised groups.