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Islamophobia, PREVENT and mental health support

Dr Hankir shares his view that Islamophobia is a “formidable barrier” to mental health care services for Muslims with mental health problems
So the indirect effects of Islamophobia on Muslim mental health. Now I want to discuss how Islamophobia can be a barrier, a formidable barrier to mental health care services in the UK for Muslims with mental health problems. So academics posit that health care, especially mental health care in the UK, is becoming increasingly securitised.
The securitisation of health care is in part being achieved through the British government’s contentious and controversial PREVENT Programme.
PREVENT is one of four strands of the British government’s counter terrorism strategy, known as CONTEST. CHANNEL. A key element of PREVENT is a multi-agency approach to identifying and providing support to individuals at risk of being drawn into terrorism. PREVENT has become embedded in the National Health Service, making the UK the only country in the world where it is expected of a health care system to screen for radicalisation. NHS Trusts are legally obliged to train staff to report patients or colleagues they suspect of being radicalised to safeguarding teams PREVENT is an example of how Islamophobia has stealthily infiltrated mental health care services in the UK.
Two thirds of NHS PREVENT referrals come from mental health trusts, and the government has produced separate PREVENT guidance for NHS mental health trusts. There is evidence that Muslims are disproportionately affected by PREVENT. Indeed, studies have shown that Muslims under mental health care services are eight times more likely to be referred to PREVENT than non-Muslims. The Royal College of Psychiatrists report in the position statement they have deep concerns about the implementation of PREVENT, and these focus in particular on the variable quality of the evidence underpinning the strategy and potential conflicts with the duties of a doctor as defined by the General Medical Council. Other reputable organisations, such as the United Nations, have also raised concerns about the PREVENT programme.
The UN mentions in an end of mission statement of the Special Rapporteur that there is extensive literature decrying the human rights impacts of the UK government’s PREVENT Programme. PREVENT is violating the human rights mainly of Muslim people. The barriers to mainstream NHS, mental health care services for Muslims are formidable enough. Many are concerned that the government has fortified these barriers with the PREVENT program Indeed, to quote Dr Adrian James, the current president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in his Guardian article, I am a Doctor not a counterterrorism operative, let me do my job. Rather than preventing terrorist attacks, I fear that PREVENT measures at present do little more than prevent people seeking support for serious illness.
And I think that is a chilling sentence to end your article with What do mental health care providers think of the PREVENT programe? So Heath-Kelly and Strauss recruited 329 NHS staff to complete a survey on PREVENT anti radicalisation methods in the health service, the findings of which were shocking. Two thirds of respondents reported they are not confident they could distinguish between someone who had been radicalised from someone who had an interest in Middle Eastern politics. Patients were being referred to PREVENT for going on pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia or watching Arabic TV.
In relation to the appropriateness of the PREVENT program in health care, less than half of the staff surveyed believe that PREVENT belongs in the NHS or that it is a safeguarding measure. Indeed, the investigators of the study reported that safeguarding has shifted from a welfare oriented to a security oriented endeavour, and that this is a surveillance rationale, not a safeguarding rationale.
Another example of the securitisation of mental health care services are the vulnerability support hubs. So vulnerability support hubs are a counter terrorism police led mental health project that assesses individuals suspected of potential extremism. And so similar to PREVENT, vulnerability support hubs disproportionately affects Muslims. So Med Act report revealed that a racialised Muslim is 23 times more likely to be referred to a vulnerability support hub for Islamism than a white British individual is for far right extremism. Despite a lack of independent evaluation and public scrutiny the scheme is currently being rolled out nationwide by police via Project Cicero.

In this step, Dr Ahmed Hankir shares his view that Islamophobia is a “formidable barrier” to mental health care services for Muslims with mental health problems.

Dr Hankir is an Academic Clinical Fellow in Psychiatry with King’s College London and Senior Research Fellow with the Centre for Mental Health Research in Association with Cambridge University.

In this video he focuses on the impact of Government policies on mental healthcare in the NHS.

Dr Hankir describes the “securitisation” of mental healthcare through the PREVENT programme, part of the UK Government’s counter-terrorism policy and presents research evidence on what mental health support providers working in the NHS think about the effect of PREVENT on their work.


Take a look at the Guardian article by Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, mentioned by Dr Hankir: ‘I’m a doctor, not a counter-terrorism operative. Let me do my job.’ The Guardian: 21st March, 2018.

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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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