Unfortunately, in my experience, there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues, particularly in the Black and Asian community, which I believe is slowly changing.
My mother is still hesitant about discussing my brother’s illness, even within our family. She has created a particular facial expression she uses when we are “in company”, which means don’t mention anything about my brother being ill. If I say anything that alludes to my brother’s illness, it is met with strong disapproval. It’s almost as though she thinks if we don’t mention it, it isn’t real.
There seems to be a sense of embarrassment and shame in my community, that someone within the family is suffering with a mental illness. It is either hidden or not spoken about until something happens that makes it no longer possible to hide.
I have observed this within Caribbean, African and Asian families, that when the first signs of a mental illness appear, immediate action is not taken to seek help. This is either because they don’t want anyone outside of the family to know, or because they don’t know what to do or where to start looking for support.
I was speaking to an Asian friend recently, whom I’d never discussed my brother’s illness with in such depth. This resulted in us having a very open conversation, during which she told me about an aunt she has who had been struggling with mental health issues for a long time, before her immediate family chose to speak about it and seek help. Her aunt now has the proper health care and support that she needs and is doing very well.
By speaking more directly about mental health issues, we can continue to change the out-dated perceptions and prejudices that are associated with mental illness. If we continue to discuss the topic of mental illness more openly and honestly, we can raise the subject’s profile so that it becomes less of a topic that is hidden and considered to be shameful.
As with other subjects that have previously been considered taboo and not thought of as suitable everyday conversations, the same change can happen for mental health. If we continue to introduce the subject of mental illness into normal conversations, we can allow the subject to become more accessible, in a way that is designed to be more helpful and non-judgemental - not only to those who are affected by it, but by others, so that they are made more aware and can aid in continuing to reduce the stigma.
I speak openly about my experiences of having a brother who is diagnosed with a mental illness. I know that by doing so, I am helping to raise awareness and understanding, so that in time there will be less and less stigma associated with mental illness. It’s so important that individuals and families, who may be challenged in this area, don’t feel the need to hide what they are going through.
If we speak about it more, we can raise the status of mental illness to one that is no longer considered to be a subject that brings embarrassment or shame within any community.
Visit Black Marbles - a website that encourages members of the black community to look after their mental health.