“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” – Audre Lorde
Last Monday, I went to a talk on radical self-care hosted by AfroPunk Festival as part of their London takeover. For those of you that don’t know, Afropunk was born out of a black subculture within the punk music scene. The festival, was created as a safe space for black alternative-minded punks to freely express themselves and build a community with one another. 14 years later, it’s aim is to redefine the “modern multicultural experience” through music, art, fashion, film and discussion. The festival has been held across Brooklyn, New York and Paris, expanding to London for the third year running.
My interest was peaked when the first event of their week long talk-series was discussing mental health within the black community, the stigma around mental health issues and how we can heal ourselves and our community. The panel consisted of (pictured from left to right):
- Mutulu Oblongata – Herbalist and founder of Mutulu Botanica
- Jocelyn Yeboah-Qnewton – founder of Our Naked Truths, Art therapy series celebrating the diverse and true beauty of female and non-binary people.
- Dr Ronx – Emergency medicine doctor/presenter/mentor
- Patrick Vernon OBE – Director of Black Thrive, Windrush campaigner and DJ
The discussion was split into three parts mixed in with Q&As to further drive conversation. The questions definitely had me thinking about the external factors that impact mental health and why ethnic minorities are largely underrepresented within the mental health field. It was so interesting hearing everyone’s insights and experiences so there was a lot to unpack. I was so engrossed in the discussion, so I didn’t write down any notes (schoolboy error). As this is done by memory, I may need to expand on these points at a later date.
- The resilience factor – There is a long history spanning centuries of the black community showing resilience in the face of adversity. And as a black woman, I don’t need to go far without hearing the “strong black woman” idiom. However, this notion can be toxic as the pressure to push through, work to exhaustion, stay in toxic relationships and not break a sweat is extremely harmful. For example; Black women are four times more likely to suffer from PTSD and instances of Schizophrenia within the black community are significantly higher (3-5 times) than those from the white-british community. They say “Black don’t crack“…on the outside, true…but inside looks to be a more complicated story. In order to practice resilience, it needs to be coupled with a level of self-awareness. Sometimes, waking up and getting out of bed during a bout of depression is an act of resilience. Being aware that you are tired and need to rest, taking the time to re-centre is an act of resilience…of radical self-care.
- What are the socio-economic factors affecting mental health? Factors such as lower educational achievement, poverty and poor health, ultimately affect our society. Class and race is intimately connected and the limiting factors attached can have a negative impact on our mental health. People living in this environment are more likely to need more care and support, yet historically social care provision and research have fared poorly in understanding, responding to, or even investigating these needs. And when you look at representation within leading roles, the level of diversity is disappointing to say the least. Only 8% of MPs in the UK and 8% of boardroom members of FTSE 100 companies are from ethnic minority backgrounds. This lack of representation can have a a major impact on aspirations, self-esteem and identity.
- How have different generations experiences affected their mental health? I will never forget when my Grandad told me about the night he was confronted by a group of Teddy Boys (known to attack West Indians that emigrated to Britain in the mid-1950s). As I listened with anger and sadness, I realised that this was very much a part of my grandad’s generation. Mental health was not discussed or even a factor, you would just go to work and get on with it. Fast forward to now and whilst racism isn’t as overt as before, younger generations still experience injustices. However, one member of the audience highlighted as millennial, we have the luxury now to explore our feelings and discuss mental health, but knowing what our parents/grandparents went through can bring up feelings of guilt, and isolation if they feel that they can’t discuss with those closest to them.
- What can be done as a community to improve mental health access within BAME communities? The recurring theme was communication “Allow people to understand the triggers and nuances that you are going through.” Talking about mental health issues more will dispel the stigma attached, which could encourage more people to access mental health services when they need it. Patrick Vernon mentioned that there are more BAME-centred mental health campaigns in the midlands compared to London which I found very surprising considering how diverse London is. Unfortunately, BAME-led campaigns are usually the first to be cut when government funding dries up and so forced to close. So, there needs to be more initiatives that are supported financially by the government and the community it serves. Research has suggested that Western approaches to mental health treatment are often unsuitable and culturally inappropriate to the needs of Asian communities (Mental Health Foundation). The NHS is commissioning culturally appropriate sessions which is a helpful step in the right direction.
I’ve added a few more links to the resources page of some of the campaign groups and charities mentioned at this event. Feel free to have a look and let me know what you think.
- Link between racism and PTSD: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/culturally-speaking/201509/the-link-between-racism-and-ptsd
- Schizophrenia in Afro-Caribbeans in the UK: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2418996/
- BAME and Mental Health: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/b/black-asian-and-minority-ethnic-bame-communities