As part of the Black Mental Health series this month, we bring you a real life story from a friend.
It was the summer of 2015 when Ogechi told me a friend wanted to have us on his radio podcast show, after he was impressed by our blog, which was about 4 months old at the time. That friend was Eche. The three of us arranged to meet in Mile End, east London where we sat upstairs in Costas, to share our thoughts on comparing racism in the UK and in America. It was a great session and we expected to do more soon after…
A year later, I found myself attending a seminar in Hackney called Mental Health and the Black Community: Prison by another name. I had found out beforehand that Eche would be hosting the event, although I had not seen or heard from him since the radio podcast. I had no idea what was to follow, when he shared his story with the audience.
Eche: “I was initially diagnosed with non-organic psychosis, which then turned into bipolar effective disorder with psychotic features. Professionals have stated that it was far too early to diagnose me with bipolar, as they would need to observe patterns of behaviour and symptoms over an extended period, as opposed to three weeks on the ward.
I was locked in a police cell after being sectioned, instead of being taken directly to the hospital. This imprisonment is by far the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to me. While I was there, I wasn’t given access to a solicitor, which was an infringement of my rights, while under detention.
When I was finally taken to a hospital, I left soon after but to get me back in, the police were called again and they used a Taser on me.
I left the hospital because they forced me to take medication. This led to my weight gain and to my suicidal thoughts. I was never keen on the medication method but I was forced to agree. I was threatened with a return to hospital if I stopped taking the pharmaceutical drugs.
It wasn’t until my medication was ended that I began my journey to recovery. I lost the gained weight, suicidal thoughts subsided and I am now living med-free and symptom free.
I established the Prison with another forum name to provide a platform where the community can get together and discuss the issue of mental health, and the racial and systematic injustice entrenched within the systems, and how we can take action to solve it. I have also finished a book called My polar opposites; A Blessing in the Skies, which captures my journey.”
Eche’s story is an example of many reasons why the black community needs to engage in the issues surrounding mental health. In 2014 the guardian news reported that: ‘Black men are 17 times more likely than white counterparts, to be diagnosed with a psychotic illness.’
The following year it was reported that: ‘…BME people were not being offered psychological talking therapies. Instead, medication continued to be the most common treatment with some spending years on medication with severe side affects.’ (the guardian)
The system is not designed to help or benefit us. The police will Taser our black men and the so called doctors will over-medicate our black men. How is that helping a person with a mental illness? This country is proud of it’s precious NHS – now close to breaking point. Well I am not proud of it. These inequalities have been going on for decades. What has changed? Nothing. What will change? Nothing – unless we start catering to ourselves – in 2010, a vital service for black men with mental health problems called 4Sight lost it’s funding and was forced to close. We need our own services, and we need to do something now. How can we heal if we continue to suffer in silence?
My Polar Opposites: A Blessing in the Skies, is available to buy online.
Eche’s next seminar on Mental Health and the Black Community: Prison by another name, will take place on Friday January 27, 2017.
– Eunice –
This year, we will be writing blog posts according to a chosen theme for each month. To start of the year, we will be exploring mental health in the black community. The following video is one I made as part of my digital portfolio for my Masters in Journalism. I decided to take the opportunity to create a short video in October 2016, about this particular issue.
Why is mental health in the black community still a taboo? Why can’t we just talk about it?
White people named the illness, so we are sceptical of it, as we are about most things white people come up with, as it never tends to include melanated people… So instead, we just see it as a ‘white people thing.’ Well it’s not, and it’s time we acknowledged this.
We need to study and research it more ourselves, and really understand what it means to have a mental illness and what caused it. We’ve got no excuse not to when research has shown that black people are more likely to suffer from a mental health illness, as a consequence of racism, discrimination, poverty, economical inequalities – to name a few. This is what is causing our minds to suffer. It is not the devil or an evil spirit, as Afro-Caribbean parents tend to say this A LOT.. No it is not! But it is the breakdown of our spiritual, emotional and mental nature, by the system and society we are currently living in.
Parents and elders, understand that the majority of our younger generation were not born back home. We were born here, which means our lifestyle differs from what it would be if we were back home. Back home is stress free. There are nearby beaches to relax – no yoga or calming therapy needed, nature’s got you.
There is unlimited sunshine, which we need to charge and maintain our melanin with for good health in general. This is why we are happier during the summer months but feel down during the colder months. But most important of all, back home you have a COMMUNITY CIRCLE. A common African proverb is “it takes a village to raise a child”, but what village do we have here in the UK? Our families are scattered all over the place. And what time do we even have these days to visit each other on a regular basis? What time do we even have to TALK TO EACH OTHER about how we feel or what’s going on in our lives good or bad?
The lifestyle set-up here is not for us at all, Spiritually, psychically, emotionally AND mentally speaking. Go back home and do you even see mental health there? The same way you don’t see people dying of heart disease because the food is fresh and non-processed. Come to the UK and you see more fast food and processed food than I eat jollof.
So what can we do to change the narrative?
There are services out there which cater to melanated needs, which the NHS has failed to commit to. Make an effort to approach these services because they are here to help – and they are us, as only we can understand each other. But, before getting there, there is one thing we must do first. We must talk to each other. Brother to brother, sister to siter and brother to sister. Young generation and old. Seek, learn, teach. It is the role of the elders to pass on vital knowledge to the generations below, well now, the younger generation have something to teach their parents and elders, because it is affecting them and they need the support AND understanding of a village more than ever.
We need to stop the stigma of mental health in the black community, and stay silent no-more.
Mental Health Services:
Mental Health resources:
- Black Mental Health UK
- Mental Health Crisis Care: commissioning excellence for Black and Minority Ethnic groups
- Black and Minority Ethnic people are short changed by mental health services
Know your rights: