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Campaign urges community to tackle mental health stigma

The Voice

A SPECIAL event aimed at tackling stigma about mental health in black communities is to be held today (February 5).

Hundreds are expected to gather at Birmingham’s Ladywood Methodist church for the performance of a play called All Systems Go which tells the story of a young African Caribbean man with mental health problems and his experience of dealing with staff at a mental health hospital.

The play will be followed by a panel discussion and Q & A with the audience.

The event marks the second stage of a project led by Time To Change, England’s largest anti-stigma mental health campaign.

The project, called ‘Forget the label, just listen’ involved volunteers in London and Birmingham using social marketing techniques and distributing flyers and posters in a bid to create face-to-face conversations with people from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. Specially designed washroom panels in local venues and social media were also part of the initiative.


According to Time To Change, the project, which was run in partnership with Lambeth Council, Birmingham City Council and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust reached 2,000 people through face-to-face contact or social media.

Of those 500 people pledged to take action either through distributing mental health awareness leaflets where they worked or hosting discussion events in places like churches and community centres.

Tonight’s event is aiming to build on that success in a bid to greater awareness about how stigma affects people from BME communities who have mental health problems.

Sandra Griffiths from Time To Change told The Voice: “Black people with mental health problems can often face significant levels of isolation and lack of support when they leave psychiatric hospitals and go back into their own communities to live. Often there is a lot of ignorance in those communities about mental health. Family members often don’t want to say ‘oh, I’ve got someone in my family who’s got a mental health problem’. Through this campaign, we want to encourage people in those communities to be a source of support. Often people think they have to be qualified health professionals in order to help. Of course that’s important but we’ve all come across someone where you can see that something is not quite right. And sometimes just saying ‘how are you?’ and genuinely meaning it can make all the difference.”

Griffiths has invited a number of mental health professionals to take part in the event in a bid to break down some of the negative perceptions of mental health services in the black community.

She said: “It’s about mental health services working with local communities to help people’s recovery. We want to involve people like mental health nurses so that they can take the time to explain to people what services they actually provide.

“They can have conversations with people who might be concerned about some of the stories they hear about black people in the mental health system, hold mini surgeries, and make themselves more accessible. What we learned from Forget the label, just listen is that people often don’t know what services are out there. They don’t know what the role of a mental nurse is, what a mental health trust does, or how a GP fits into that picture, and for some people there is quite a high threshold in getting access to mental health services.”

Among those on the panel will be Necola Hall, a former Iraq veteran who suffered from depression before being discharged from the army in 2013.


She kept quiet about her illness because she feared being stigmatised by friends and members of her church.
She believes that campaigns like those run by Time To Change were especially important for women.

|Hall said: “I was afraid of the stigma in the black community, from my family and friends, if I admitted that I had mental health problems so I refused to take them. Also as a Christian, I felt that if I was depressed, I was spiritually weak so my way of dealing with it was just to pray. I know many black women in the same situation.

They may not have been in the army but they are struggling with issues such as stress anxiety every day and it could be to do with looking after the children, money worries, holding down a job and very few of them have the courage to come out and talk about it for fear of what the church might say or looking like women who can’t hold things together. I’m saying that is wrong and that it has to change. As black women we may feel we always have to be strong in the face of emotional difficulties, but that’s not the case.”

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