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Man Up: An Ethnic Minorities' Mental Health Dilemma

CW: Please be advised, this article discusses the topic of racism, mental health and bereavement which can be triggering for some readers.

How the disregard of mental health issues within ethnic communities has affected us as individuals

Man up! ... regardless of gender, I'm sure we have all come across this phrase far too many times. Whether it was seeing a male member of your family having this phrase drilled into him by an elder the moment a single tear began to form in his eyes, or even the subtle insinuation of the phrase when you tell your school pastoral advisor that you are struggling with negative and very harmful thoughts in your head. I'm sure a lot of us have experienced that sinking feeling of loneliness when you try to get help but the same people who are supposed to help you, are the ones who dismiss you.

Now imagine what it feels like for us as ethnic minorities who have grown up with parents that have probably seen humanity and the world at its worst. They have seen and experienced things our privileged minds could never fathom in this modern day western world we live in. Then imagine trying to get advice from someone who has never experienced these life issues and does not care for them at all. Sadly, as a black woman of faith, these are the things not just myself, but others similar to me, have had to go through during our childhood and teenage years.

My mental health experience growing up

Growing up in the UK was not an easy thing for me. As much as it can be considered one of the best places in the world to live, it's hard to feel normal when you don't look, talk and act like 80 percent of your peers. As you can imagine, I was the target of said peers, who constantly humiliated me by calling me racist names while always managing to spew out the cliche "Go back to your country!". Now, as an adult who has more knowledge on life, I could easily say, oh, that's just kids being kids.

However, even though the bullying was expected, what I really did not brace myself for, was the lack of empathy shown by my teachers and blatant dismissal of my feelings. It's almost as though I had to assume responsibility for being different and just deal with it, which made me feel so worthless. At times I would even cry so much at the thought of having to go to school the next day and face these people, I would hyperventilate and eventually pass out. The mental effects had started to manifest into physical which saw my anxiety and depression levels sore through the roof. I even had to be hospitalized and placed on medication by the age of twelve because my physical symptoms started to affect my life every minute of every day.

Growing up in an African community who always puts faith in God above everything else, meant my problems were always met with the solution of "Go pray Jemimah, God will help you". Don't get me wrong, I am still a woman of faith, but also a firm believer that God created science and people to help us along the way and its through them that his greatest works can be seen. At the time I struggled to understand why my mother couldn't help me, further causing me to feel alone; but now as I am older, I realize just how much pain and mental health issues she too was struggling with herself, all while working two jobs, being a single parent to four kids and maintaining the level of composure she had. She was a warrior.

Sadly this is the case for most ethnic minorities, especially parents, having experienced social and economic hardships, racism and discrimination in ways that people in the UK today could never imagine. They too were never taught how to express their emotions and feelings or guided in the right direction to get help for their mental health issues. To be honest, in cultures like ours, poor mental health is not even viewed as a genuine medical condition which causes that ridiculous phrase "man up!" to be hurled at you whenever you show any signs of weakness.

Where's the evidence?

The evidence to back this up can be found on the The Mental Health Foundation website which states:

  • Black men are more likely to have experienced a psychotic disorder in the last year than White men

  • Black people are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than White people

  • older South Asian women are an at-risk group for suicide

  • refugees and asylum seekers are more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population, including higher rates of depression, anxiety and PTSD

They also go on further to state:

People from BAME backgrounds have the same right as everyone else to access mental treatment and services. But research shows BAME people can face barriers to getting help, including:

  • not recognizing they have a mental illness because mental health was stigmatized or never talked about in their community

  • not knowing that help is available or where to go to get it

  • language barriers

  • turning to family or friends rather than professional support, especially for people who don’t trust formal healthcare services

  • financial barriers, such as paying for private counselling

  • not feeling listened to or understood by healthcare professionals

  • White professionals who do not understand their experiences of racism or discrimination

So what can we do?

The recent surge in funding for mental health organisations in the past 10 years alone has certainly helped not just the older generation of ethnic minorities but also the younger generation who now have access to much more help than we ever did growing up. Also the Black Lives Matter organisation that continues to campaign for equal rights and have essentially ripped the lid off the harsh reality of racism and discrimination that BAME individuals have had to experience throughout history. This in itself has really been an eye opener for a vast majority of individuals who where never educated on the matter and since then awareness has continued to grow rapidly! I can honestly say, it seems to be the continuous growth and consciousness to be considerate of each other as individuals not stereotypes that is really making a difference in society today and I can only hope that one day as quoted by the great Martin Luther King Jr.

"That my little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

And what a truly beautiful world that would be.

For more information on the specific organisations that can help people of ethnic minorities with their mental health issues, visit The Mental Health Foundation.


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