OBV Profile: Matilda MacAttram

MacAttram is the founder and director of Black Mental Health UK (BMH UK). Launched in August 2006, BMH UK has led various campaigns to raise awareness of the inequality of mental health treatment provided to Black communities.

Discussing the current state of mental health in the Black community she argues: "Black people have the same prevalence of mental health issues as any other ethnic group yet rates of detention in mental institutions is 44 per cent higher. For the African Caribbean community it is the most critical issue facing us and we are not even aware of it."

The core values of BMH UK are based on the inquiry report of David "Rocky" Bennett who died after being restrained in a mental health unit in 1998. It is through this case and others that BMH UK hopes to unveil the institutional racism that exists within mental health services and ensure that human rights provisions are made a priority.

MacAttram is presently chair of the Mental Health Alliance's BME interest group and a member of the Alliance's Bill team, where she is responsible for informing members of the House of Commons on forthcoming changes to the 2006 Mental Health Bill which updates the 1983 Mental Health Act as it moves through parliament to become a new act.

She also works proactively politicising the Church, sits on the steering group of the BME Mental Health Network and is a member on the National Advisory Panel of the mental health charity, Mind.

Noting her campaign work, MacAttram is also a specialist health journalist and has written on health matters for publications including Mental Health Today, New Nation newspaper, The Voice, Community Care Magazine, Blink.org.uk and Black Britain online among others.

Born and raised in London, the daughter of Ghanian parents attained a degree in Politics at Bristol Polytechnic, now referred to as the University of the South West of England.

Her interest in politics grew, as she recalls from her most poignant political memory - Nelson Mandela's 1990 release from prison. She says that she was inspired by his struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a democracy of all races.

After freelancing as a journalist for a number of organisations including the Law Society Gazette and The Guardian's 'WorkThing.Com', she says that it was only when she joined the human rights and race equality organisation, The 1990 Trust that she delved further into politics.

MacAttram joined the trust in 2003 and spent almost three years as their lead on health, tackling issues such as coronary heart disease, sickle cell and meningitis.

She adds: "This is where I cut my political teeth, because that was when I came across the Bennett Inquiry Report. I couldn't believe the mistreatment that was happening in Britain in the 21st Century. I saw that no one was taking up African Caribbean concerns, which is why I later decided to establish Black Mental Health UK."

MacAttram believes that one of her major success was defeating the 2004 Mental Health Bill, which proposed to increase powers of detention by police. MacAttram successfully led this campaign during her time at The 1990 Trust. Now through BMH UK she is campaigning to ensure the legal duties within race relations and human rights law are included in the 2006 Mental Health Bill.

She says: "I don't want him [David 'Rocky' Bennett] to have died in vain. The suffering he endured represents the pain of others. We need to make sure that this issue doesn't leave the table until it is addressed."

For the future MacAttram would like to see more communities politicised. She adds: "I would also like to see BMH UK as a leader in its field, recognised nationally as affecting positive change in a crisis and making a difference in peoples' lives."

For further information about BMH UK visit www.blackmentalhealth.org.uk