In her latest blog Bella talks about stigma in the Black community and how we can all play our part in breaking it.

I’ve noticed whether it's the USA African-American community or the UK black community, we make great efforts talking about “what are we having for Sunday dinner” or “what are we wearing to church or a party” There are not equal conversations in our community talking about mental health. We have a generational stigma surrounding black mental health around the world and we need to break down these walls.

I am a Black woman with three mental illnesses; bipolar, PTSD, and a personality disorder who has lived with Black mental health stigma within our community. Following a recent mental health relapse due to bipolar, a friend in the community responded by saying, “Bella, you are such a strong woman, stop being weak, you are such a strong business woman, pull yourself together!”

In order for us to break the stigma, primarily we need to understand why our community has a stigma surrounding mental health, which is generational. Without understanding how mental health sits in our cultural history, it is difficult to influence change.

Generational cultural mental health influence

The old saying, “Don't wash your dirty laundry in public” is alive within Black culture. “What happens in our house, STAYS in our house!”. Parents emphasised that everything must be kept a secret, under our roof. No different to the modern day stag party holiday slogan to Las Vegas. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. Many Black children grew up with a parental fear of the known repercussions of spanking, punishment and discipline to follow should this rule be broken. In my opinion, this has led to a cultural influence where many black people have adopted a terrifying fear to openly share any aspects of mental health outside the home. The consequence is the feeling that mental health should be a secret therefore our Black community would shy away from talking about mental health in public.   

In our community 'crazy' and mental illness sit in the same sentence. Every Black person is familiar with the label, “She/He is crazy”. This creates feelings of shame. The thought of being labeled as crazy is a negative feeling if a person is mentally ill. These judgments might make you wish to vanish due to their emotions. 

Stigma exists when a person is admitted in a psychiatric hospital, it would be described as, “She/he is in the madhouse”. Vocabulary.com defines a madhouse as an old-fashioned and derogatory word for a psychiatric hospital. It was once quite common to talk about mentally ill people being sent to the madhouse, but that would be offensive today. Starting to understand that we all have mental health, just like physical health is a perfect way to tackle this stigma.

Why Black people fear visiting the doctor

Black people historically have a “love vs hate” motivation to visit their family doctor. This multiplies when seeking medical assistance for mental health problems. There is a generational fear and the preferred option is to wait until Sunday to talk to the church pastor, regardless mental health services are free on the NHS.

There is a shortage of Black Doctors General Practitioners (GP) only 4% black compared to 63% white. This dramatically increases hesitation in our community to seek professional mental health assistance. This is a major UK healthcare obstacle because Black people would greatly benefit from speaking with culturally competent medical practitioners. A result of increased diversity within the (NHS) United Kingdom National Health Service and talking with a Black family doctor that looks like them, will motivate more black people to get mental health help and discuss symptoms with confidence.

When Black people face stigma and feel they cannot openly talk about their mental health or seek medical assistance they will experience deteriorating mental health. Black adults have the lowest treatment rate at 6.5%. You can feel alone and isolated because you feel like you have no-one to talk to about your mental health problems. Often a person would make the choice to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Others may choose to self-harm in different ways, such as excessively clubbing, over exercising, cutting themselves, deliberately starving themselves (anorexia nervosa) or binge eating (bulimia nervosa) and much more.

How I choose to break stigma every day 

Using my voice is the best solution to break Black mental health stigma. I’m on a mission to change the culture on how we view mental health in our community and to use our voices to motivate more people to talk openly about mental health. This will be a rewarding domino effect. We need more mental health awareness by using our voices. Many of our brothers and sisters are living with mental health symptoms unknowing as a result of low levels of mental health education or awareness. Let’s use our voices!

 

Talking equals sharing words of change, a simple voice. This is more powerful and faster than waiting for action which takes longer. One in four people from BAME communities don't share their mental health issues. (source) 

 

I choose to use my voice to raise mental health awareness and increase education. Easier steps by sharing my mental health journey with as many people as possible, being open about how I overcome challenges. Plus advocate treatment is available by sharing I have  received counselling and medication to promote there no shame in asking for help! You can read more about my story here