Taboos, fear and cultural barriers stopped some communities from seeking mental health support during lockdown

·3-min read
<p>By April 2020 referrals to NHS talking therapy dropped to as low as 57,814</p> (PA Archive)

By April 2020 referrals to NHS talking therapy dropped to as low as 57,814

(PA Archive)

A cycle of fear, taboos and “cultural ignorance” has resulted in mental health sufferers foregoing help during the pandemic, according to campaigners, who warn more needs to be done post-lockdown.

Covid-19 brought on a wave of loss, economic instability and isolation across the UK creating a mental health crisis.

This, however, was not reflected in the number of calls to help services. On an average month, the NHS talking therapies service receives about 150,000 referrals for treatment of common mental health problems but in April 2020 this dropped to as low as 57,814, according to its website.

Some believe that as the country steps into the last phase of the roadmap, on June 21–where all restrictions will be lifted – more attention needs to be paid to communities who face additional barriers to seeking help.

Simon Tefula, an Afro-Caribbean who previously suffered from depression, told the Standard there was a lack of knowledge in some Black Asian and Minority Ethnic households on how to talk about mental health.

When I grew up, all I knew about mental health and illness was that people go crazy, get sectioned and get put away in a mental institution. That’s all I knew about it.

Simon Tefula

“If I’d known that, actually, this is a very common thing and it’s just as important as your physical health then I would have definitely engaged with services earlier. But there was a lack of knowledge, there was a lack of access,” he added.

In some BAME communities, mental illness can be seen as something that would affect marriage prospects, bring embarrassment to a family or linked to lack of prayer.

A recent survey of more than 14,000 adults, by the mental health charity Mind, revealed that existing inequalities in housing, employment and finances have had a greater impact on the mental health of these groups during the pandemic.

 (Simon Tefula)
(Simon Tefula)

Mr Tefula, who wrote the book ‘52 messages’ which focuses on mental health and self care added: “There are key things that need to be done post lockdown - from charities with diverse therapists engaging with young people so they understand from an early age that help is available.

“And more funding and support for grass root charities helping the BAME community, who also do a lot of work on the ground with minimal resources.”

Maisha Sumah, a domestic abuse survivor, who has long campaigned against femicide and advocated for better measures to help women feel safer also suffered with depression during her teenage years.

The 22-year-old, added: “I’d say there also needs to be an initiative for the older generation to actually educate them because the truth is there were children, who throughout lockdown had been suffering with mental health but because they live with families who have outdated views - they weren’t able to get help let alone understand why they feel the way they do.

“But then again it’s always the question of funding, how the Government funding will be distributed and who will they give it to.”

 (Maisha Sumah)
(Maisha Sumah)

Professor Frank Keating, who specialises in Social Work at Royal Holloway and has researched the issue for decades, echoed the campaigner’s views.

He said: “I think there’s greater awareness that something needs to happen and some [services] have improved. But I think for me the whole issue is when you combine issues of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, spirituality and mental health, you’ve got a complex set of things working together and I don’t often think that our mental health services are in a good position to speak to the whole person.”

Mr Keating added that he did not “buy the idea that stigma on mental health was worse in the black community’’ but said that it was all down to the effort in outreach and “taking the service to where people are comfortable, for example the mosque, the churches, and not expecting them to always come to you.”

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