Mental health assessments, conducted in liaison with counterterrorism forces, are criminalising mental illness among Muslims and raising “serious ethical concerns”, according to a newly published report by public health charity Medact.
The report, based on documents obtained through a series of extensive FOI requests, exposes a secretive police-led mental health project called “Vulnerability Support Hubs”, finding thousands of cases where individuals were targeted arbitrarily based on racialised and vague suspicions.
Activities conducted by health professionals, which are categorically outside their remit, are repeatedly highlighted in the report, with regional counterterrorism units encouraging the assessment of individuals’ future terrorism risk, monitoring of behaviour and speech and engagement in deradicalisation work of “dubious scientific validity”.
The report states that pervasive racial bias is “highly significant” to mental health and policing; especially in pre-crime counter-extremism programmes such as Prevent, where referrals are purely based on conjecture and speculation.
“A racialised Muslim is at least 23 times more likely to be referred to a mental health hub for ‘Islamism’ than a white British individual is for ‘Far Right extremism”
Concerns are also raised regarding the possibility of pathologising individuals based on perceived “extremist rhetoric” or their socioeconomic status, potentially undermining the rights of people with no diagnosable mental health conditions to deny medical care or “deradicalisation”.
“reports strongly suggest the pathologisation of socio-economic vulnerability – stigmatising the homeless and the unemployed as particular groups associated with terrorism risk.”
The lack of transparency and scrutiny surrounding the programme has also been emphasised as a significant problem, with significant resistance to the disclosure of information and independent evaluation persistent despite the scheme being funded with NHS money.
The UK’s counterterrorism strategies, particularly Prevent, have come under fire in recent years for their discriminatory tendencies and fostering of discrimination against people of Muslim faith or background.
In March 2021, Amnesty International announced their participation in a civil society-led review of Prevent and condemned the appointment of William Shawcross as its chair, stating that:
“We, and other non-governmental organisations, have long raised concerns about the discriminatory and anti-Muslim impact of Prevent and its potential to violate core human rights”
The continued imposition of counter extremism measures which show pervasive racial bias is unacceptable; the relevant institutions must ensure that an independent review of programmes such as the “Vulnerability Support Hubs” is conducted, and that the deployment of medicine as a security device is stopped.