UCL: Windrush scandal victims to speak up about mental health and trauma

The intergenerational mental health consequences of the Windrush scandal on Caribbean and Black African families in the UK will be explored in a new project launched by UCL academic Dr Rochelle Burgess and social commentator and historian, Professor Patrick Vernon OBE.

The Ties That Bind is the first study of its kind to map the mental health impact of the Windrush Scandal and hostile immigration policies, not only on those who have been directly affected, but also their family members, who all may have experienced mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and race related trauma.

The ‘Windrush’ generation refers to people who arrived in the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973, and of whom, many took up jobs in the newly formed NHS and other sectors affected by Britain’s post-war labour shortage. The name ‘Windrush’ derives from the ship called ‘HMT Empire Windrush’ which brought one of the first large groups of Caribbean people to the UK in 1948.

The Windrush scandal began to surface in 2017 after it emerged that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens, many of whom were from the ‘Windrush’ generation, had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights. Victims of the Windrush scandal endured forced detention, a loss of employment, housing and livelihoods and were forcibly separated from families. They have often continued to have negative experiences as a result of hostile immigration policies.

Dr Rochelle Burgess (Associate Professor, UCL Global Institute of Health, and Principal Investigator of The Ties that Bind project) said: “The Windrush Scandal is a heart-breaking example of the interactions between state-orchestrated oppression, the violence of borders, and the way that Black life is seen as expendable.

“It cuts to the heart of the ways that systems strip people of home, humanity, place, and personhood. However, discussions of mental health are totally absent from our responses – despite evidence suggesting that good mental health is impossible in the absence of these things. Our project seeks to bring together affected families and document evidence to motivate policy action around mental health support for victims, families and communities.”

Over the course of the next few months, the project team hope to speak to families across London and other UK cities who have been affected. They aim to find out how it has impacted their health through a series of questionnaires and the use of photos and visual images, known as the ‘photovoice method’, to help people talk about their experiences.

Professor Vernon, health systems equity advocate, Windrush campaigner and co-Principal investigator of The Ties that Bind project, said: “How can we, as Windrush generation members and descendants, hope to rebuild our mental health, and imagine our lives in a place where there is no real recognition of how the hostile environment and the Windrush scandal damages our mental and emotional health? Projects like this are desperately needed, if we are to ever break the cycle of poor mental health faced by many in our society.”

The research will take place over six months this year and map perspectives and realities of living through this crisis within families and wider communities. The results of the photovoice project will be publicly shared and exhibited online in collaboration with the UCL Health of the Public Creative Health Community. A policy roundtable will be held to engage survivors, academics and policy makers to raise awareness and encourage support and change.

Anthony Bryan, Windrush scandal victim and has helped the project team in the formation of The Ties That Bind, said: “The Windrush scandal broke my world in two. I spent months wrongfully detained in detention centres, leading to the loss of my livelihood, my home. The things I have experienced during that time are not in the past – they are very much my present reality – trauma like that doesn’t just go away.

“There is very little concern or interest in the mental health needs of people who have survived the scandal, and I am excited by this project which tries to shed light on what we are living through, as we try to rebuild our lives.”

Natalie Barnes, Daughter of Windrush Scandal victim Paulette Wilson and Windrush Campaigner, said: “The Windrush scandal has torn through the fabric of our lives. There is no way to explain how watching my mother’s struggle for dignity, denied her by this state, broke our hearts, and fractured our worlds. Her passing is borne by our entire family, our community – and this grief, is made more difficult by the circumstances of her death.”

Dr Burgess and Professor Vernon will co-lead the project alongside psychotherapist Ms Dawn Estefan, Dr Chetna Sharma (UCL Centre for Global Non-Communicable Diseases) and Ms Farah Sheibani (London School of Economics and Political Science), as well as partners, the advocacy group Windrush Lives and the Wolverhampton Windrush Legal Advice Clinic.

Dr Burgess added: “It is an honour to be able to work with Patrick, Dawn, Chetna, Farah and our partners at Windrush Lives and The Wolverhampton Windrush Legal Advice Clinic, to document the mental health consequences this has had on victims, and the ripple effects this scandal has had through families, Black communities and society.”

Comments are closed.