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Services for Everyone (blog) | Mental Health Awareness Week

Samira runs the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Mental Health Recovery project with Diverse Cymru.  

We work tirelessly to give people a voice to be heard where it matters. Through our project, we advocate on their behalf so they can access mental health services, while making sure that services are culturally appropriate by delivering BAME mental health raising awareness training and cultural awareness training to healthcare practitioners.

For the past six months, we have also been running the All Wales BAME Mental Health Online/ telephone support project with activities such as Bollywood mindfulness, cuppa & chat, culture club, and film and book club, with participants from across Wales joining in. The activities have given people something to look forward to and has tackled feelings of isolation. We also have multilingual volunteers who make sure everyone can participate in the group sessions.

The pandemic has made clear to me a number of inequalities for BAME communities, which we have encountered first-hand through our work;

  • A severe lack of talking therapies i.e. counselling for BAME people whose first language is not English,
  • Culturally inappropriate services.

Talking therapies

Talking therapies such as counselling are a great resource for many people who can access it. However, for many BAME people it is not inclusive or appropriate, as many of the people who use our services do not have the first language of English, therefore they are unable to take part unless they have an interpreter or access to a counsellor who meets their language needs.

Many of the people who use our services have been offered group therapy sessions but are unable to attend due to their limited English, or due to not speaking English at all.

It is clear that there is a real shortage of BAME counsellors, and talking therapists with language skills; this needs to be addressed in order for mental health services to be mental health services for everyone, and so they are inclusive of communities with additional language requirements.

“My support worker is always there for me to talk through my problems and she listens, I am so grateful for her support and don’t know who I would turn to if I didn’t have her”.

Inappropriate services

During the pandemic, mental health services have been via telephone support or online. That is a by-product of the pandemic, of course, which has affected all of us. However it has not affected all of us equally – for the BAME individuals who use our services, they report feeling isolated, scared, depressed, and anxious, and that their mental health has severely deteriorated. They miss not being able to join in with the classes or group activities that they used to do.

It is also clear that there must be a better access route for BAME people when accessing GP’s and other healthcare providers, as they feel discriminated against and dismissed when accessing front-line services, or not listened to.

A distressed individual told me their reality of accessing their GP during the pandemic, how GP receptionists can be rude and that they have been shouted at when trying to make a GP appointment. This then leads to a reluctance to go to their GP, as they have to go through the receptionist first to get an appointment where they have been belittled, shouted at or spoken to rudely, they then do not feel comfortable or confident to go back to arrange another appointment. Medical issues can be missed, people who need support feel like they can’t get it.

Staff need training to address this issue as people who access our services are suffering in silence. It is so important to actively listen to what a person is saying, not what you think they are saying. It takes a lot of courage and strength to take the first step to seek help for mental health and if your first language is not English it is even harder to understand what is being communicated to you, on top of managing the stigma that mental ill health can carry within BAME communities.

We have got to tackle these mental health inequalities in Wales, we are a nation for everyone, and our services must reflect that also. 

“I am so grateful that I have found the right support”.

To find out more about Samira’s work, or to refer to the project, click here

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