Looking back at my experience with being diagnosed with psychosis at the age of seventeen, in the middle of a A-Level crisis and the effects on my family particularly my mother from a Caribbean household was something that changed my perspective around mental health. From being hospitalised for 6 months in a adolescent’s unit, being forced to resist my A-Levels, to only just finishing my 1st year. Three years later having learnt and grown from that experience from a mental, physical and spiritual aspect; has motivated me to share my story to help and inspire others. I believe this chapter in my life has given me the freedom to discuss this complex and socially sensitive topic.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health
I want to focus on the stigmas around mental health within the BME communities and raise awareness to give people like me the confidence to talk about something important. Often, this subject has felt taboo or prohibited and is never talked about within our households and/or personal circles. Going through what I did, with my own mental health has now become part of my testimony and given me the confidence to encourage others going through a similar stage in their life.
What is Mental Health
Hearing these two words often causes panic. for years now, this phrase has been attached to negative connotations. The World Health Organisation (WHO) definition of mental health, simply refers to it as ‘a state of well-being’.
That means we all have mental health, but the question to be raised is the state of one’s well-being. We can associate well-being to certain aspects pf ourselves, such as the physical, mental and spiritual parts of our beings. Of course the relationship to each of these will differ from person to person. For mental health to then be “good” or “poor” correlates to Marie Jahoda classification of Ideal Mental Health and likewise is included in WHO’s definition also. But is this not a high standard to live up to because we fail to do most of these at times. And we wouldn’t expect anyone to be demotivated or disheartened by not living up to this classification.
Ultimately the point remains that everyone has “mental health”, and the negative stigma unfortunately stems from societies norms and values and more specifically the media and popular culture.
Mental Health Amongst the Black Community
We’ve all at some point heard the term “mental health” and coming from an Afro-Caribbean background, this term came with a lot of stigma and often had negative connotations to it. More times than not, ‘mental health’ was associated with crazy, mad or disturbed.
Within the black community, hearing that an individual has been sectioned for psychosis or is taking anti-depressants, can often bring about feelings of shame, contempt or embarrassment. This shouldn’t be the response in supporting and helping that individual, but unfortunately today it is still often the most displayed response from the Afro-Caribbean community.
I spoke to Ama Blackson, a fellow undergraduate at Manchester University about her views on mental health. She emphasised the lack of seriousness amongst the black community regarding mental health and that responses from parents centred around the statements such as: “you should be praying more”, or “don’t you go to church?”, feeding the narrative that truly religious people don’t have issues with their mental health. These responses show the lack of empathy or understanding with an issue such as this. My own mother’s response was very similar prior to my psychotic episode, and now she uses me as a case study to encourage parents, to seek help from services such as CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services).
It’s amazing to see that even with the stigmas surrounding mental health in the black community, stats tend to show that “among the 5 broad ethnic groups, people in the Black ethnic group were the most likely to have been detained under the Mental Health Act in 2017/18 (commonly known as being ‘sectioned’), and people in the White ethnic group were the least likely to have been detained”, other stats show that black Caribbean people have the highest rate of detention of all ethnic groups for which ethnicity was recorded. While the high rate of detention and sectioning of black people by services could be a symptom of a broader institutional issues of over policing of black bodies, these stats could also highlight that within the black community mental health is a pressing issue and stigmas towards it, does not help the situation.
It’s also evident that mental health is something which black men struggle to talk about and open up to others about. It is easy to empathise. prior to my own psychotic episode, it was difficult for me to talk to friends about the ongoing situation for fear of being embarrassed or humiliated.
Others may also be going through a battle with their mindset or well-being but talking to others can help. Putting on a facade to hide your struggles and feelings in an effort to show your strength or toughness to those around you, in the end only prevents you from moving forward. The quote “a problem shared is a problem halved” applies, regardless if you’re the only male figure in the household who seems to be carrying the weight of a household on your shoulders, talking to someone about sharing the burden or just your thoughts can go a long way.
Stormzy is an example for black males to emulate, regardless of his image and statues in society is still humble enough to talk about his depression knowing full well it’ll be on social media moments later.
Other artists such as Ramz (also known as Ramone Rochester) recently shared his experience of battling through a difficult moment in his life with depression and suicidal thoughts. He was thankful for having family and friends to share his thoughts with.
We want the future to be filled with boldness, confidence and shamelessness and in order to do this my brothers everywhere need to speak about their worries, fears and tribulations; because it doesn’t make anyone less of a man to talk about their mental health.
Mental Health Support
The presence of many mental health support services throughout the UK, such as CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), EQUIP (Early Intervention) and Mind have further increased awareness of mental health wellbeing. Activities of celebrities and high profile individuals in further promoting awareness for mental health services have also encouraged people to seek help. While YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram or any other social media can be detrimental to our self-worth, it is a useful tool for providing support and encouragement for others.
Links to any support and advice linked below: