How’s everyone doing? I’m feeling super grateful this morning because we made it to the last month of the year… the final stretch. Yes! It’s December 1st, which means it’s also officially the first day of Blogmas. For my non-blogger readers/anyone who just doesn’t know what Blogmas is… it’s basically a series of blog posts that I publish during the countdown to Christmas. They won’t all necessarily be Christmas related, but it’s an exciting time because it means more content than usual – yay! So here is the first instalment:
I’m writing this blog post on a noisy Saturday evening from the backseat of my Uber. We’re stuck in central London traffic but I didn’t want to wait until I got home or even later during the week to write this post because I wanted it to be fresh in my mind. One draft, no revisions.
The event was organised by Voices of Colour (VOC) and Half Full Not Empty (HFNE) and it focused on opening up a discussion regarding mental health within ethnic communities. When I saw Chenai (founder of YW Magazine) promoting the event on Twitter I was immediately down to support by attending.
Voices Of Colour ( VOC ) is a non – profit collective platform amplifying racial issues and topics for young people of colour in the UK. This platform was build to help young people of colour to learn and share opinions / experiences via various roots such as, workshops, debates and socials.
Creating solutions to mental health issues to empower young women & actively raising awareness about mental health issues in BAME communities.
Naturally, I’m not really fond of attending events by myself because it can be awkward but that’s something I’m actively working on conquering. But I ended up meeting some really cool people at the event. During the icebreakers, we discussed our dreams, fears, the past and the present, our strengths and favourite memories in pairs. It was a useful exercise for me personally because as I said a couple of blog posts ago in Taking Stock, I don’t reflect on myself as much as I probably should do. Now I encourage everyone to make it a habit because contrary to popular belief, your mental health is just as important as your physical and spiritual health.
We also heard from the founder of HFNE, 20 year old university student Juanita Agboola. Like many British-Nigerians with mental health illnesses, Juanita feared the response of her African parents. Will they understand? Will they be angry? Will they just tell me to pray the demon out? But fortunately, her parents were extremely supportive and understanding. They came through for her when she opened up to them about her struggles with mental health. This, however, is not the general consensus perceived of African parents by their children on mental health issues. I believe we’ve come a long way in terms of the dissemination of knowledge about mental health. But I cannot deny that there is still a large divide in culture, which partly explains the fear to be transparent in some ethnic communities.
A contrary opinion raised at the event suggested that instead of focusing on heavy critique of parents within the BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) community, we should turn our attention to “the elephant in the room.”
The Elephant in the Room: “Why do we not critique the system? We blame our parents, the church, the individual etc. But what about the system? The psychiatrists, doctors, nurses etc. have a stigma against us.”
This alternative was raised by a young man who had “been through the system”. He was eventually reluctantly diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a long period of what he described as “having to prove [himself]” and the sincerity of his illness. His argument is supported by statistics read out by HFNE which revealed that African-Caribbean people are 3-5 times more likely to be diagnosed with mental health illnesses such as schizophrenia than any other group of people. African-Caribbean people are also more likely to be sectioned and less likely to be offered medication as opposed to counselling than other groups. We have to question why is this the case. Could the supposed elephant in the room argument have some truth to it? Is there an institutionalised stigma against ethnic communities that leads them to be most vulnerable in the mental health debate? It’s food for thought and this discussion certainly made me think about the perception of mental health in my community.
There was also mention of other communities such as Irish and Asian people. In particular, it was suggested that Western approaches are often culturally inappropriate to deal with mental health in such communities. There is a gap in cultural sensitivity and this may or may not be helped through increased representation of BAME mental health experts in the public sector.
We also discussed the pressure on young people to be strong and resilient, especially given the perceived luxurious western world that many of us grew up in. In particular, second generation immigrant children that feel burdened by the mixture of self-inflicted pressure to “be the best” and the very real expectation held by their parents and community.
After discussions and games, there was a panel – unfortunately I couldn’t stay for this part but I’m sure it was just as insightful as the whole event.
Overall I was really blessed by this event and I love what HFNE and VOC are doing. I’m happy that events and organisations like this exist in London. If there’s one key thing that I want to impart to you guys from what I learned today, it’s that you mustn’t suffer in silence. Whatever you’re going through, healing and recovery of your mental health starts by talking about it, even just to one trusted person. For more information on these organisations, do visit their websites linked above and twitter accounts listed below.
@HFNFE_ (founder: Juanita Agboola)
@_VOICESOFCOLOUR (founder: Ariane Takyi)
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
God bless you!
*There are 24 days until Christmas!*
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