The Windrush scandal was traumatic. Survivors need tailored mental health care

Patrick Vernon
Photograph: Douglas Miller/Getty Images

The Windrush scandal uncovered another chapter in the continuing inequality and structural racism faced by black communities in the UK. People were deported and detained against their will. Some lost their homes and jobs; others died.

As we mark Black History Month and World Mental Health Day, the biggest fear is that a new mental health crisis is brewing as a result of the scandal.

There's an overrepresentation of African, Caribbean and people of mixed-race heritage in mental health systems in major cities

Working with survivors of the Windrush generation and their families, it appears they are affected by hostile environment trauma. Consequences include loss of liberty, degradation, humiliation, death, attempted suicide, bereavement, anxiety and depression, hypertension and stroke, food deprivation, isolation and loneliness, deportation fatigue and intergenerational trauma.

Survivors of the scandal say they feel the government robbed them of their black British identities, and made them feel like aliens and non-entities. This hurt and trauma is felt by many people of colour and migration status as we constantly deal with microaggressions and everyday racism, which have an impact on our mental wellbeing.

There is already a significant overrepresentation of African, Caribbean and people of mixed-race heritage in the mental health and criminal justice systems in London and major cities.

Without urgent intervention or action, more people will be caught in the mental health system without the right preventative and therapeutic support. The danger, based on current experience and trends over the past 30 years, is that there will be a marked increase in black people accessing mental health services at a later stage, leading to sectioning, poor health outcomes, and further loss of human rights and dignity.

Related: How can mental health services deliver better care for black patients?

A national mental health and wellbeing programme is required around the post-traumatic impact of the hostile environment on the Windrush generation and their descendants. This needs funding and commissioning for culturally relevant and specific organisations, which can provide a range of therapeutic and counselling services.

I have just been to the USA and the Caribbean as a Winston Churchill fellow, researching the issue of mental health and black identity and attempting to find new models and solutions.

I learned about emotional emancipation circles, developed by a black therapist as a peer support counselling model to deal with community trauma for survivors in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The model is developing in the US, UK and Africa and could be included in a national strategy to support the Windrush generation and their families. I also saw how arts, theatre and history are being used to preserve and reclaim black identity to improve mental wellbeing and self-esteem.

An urgent roundtable meeting should be called at No 10, bringing together NHS England, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office and professional bodies such as the Royal Colleges covering GPs, psychiatry and nursing. Counselling and therapy bodies working with black health professionals also need to be there, along with the victims of the scandal and campaigners.

The home secretary, Priti Patel, has recently announced a Windrush Advisory Group. I hope that mental health and wellbeing will be a top priority, along with making the Windrush compensation scheme more accessible and less onerous.

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The Windrush generation were let down by governmental failure and systematic discrimination. There must now be a comprehensive and restorative programme around mental health and wellbeing for the whole black community in Britain.

• Patrick Vernon is a health professional, community activist and cultural historian. He writes about his involvement in the Windrush scandal in the book Innovation and Change in Non-Profit Organisations: A Case Study Guide to Survival, Sustainability and Success and is co-host with Sinai Fleary of The Voices of Windrush series for Colourful Radio