This event highlights how important it is to move the image of black mental health away from negative, gloomy statistics
This article was written by Sidney Millin and was published in Guardian on Thursday, 24th January 2013. Sidney Millin is a mental health project worker at Social Action for Health.
For many years after I was diagnosed with a mental illness, it became my very own elephant in the room – always there but never discussed. Not with my friends, not with my family and most certainly not in public. It was something to be ashamed of.
Looking back, I realise that not talking about it was the biggest stumbling block to my recovery. It was only after I started to share my experiences that I began to move forward. I’m not alone as studies have shown that many African and Caribbean people with mental health problems feel isolated by their communities.
The Stereo-Hype festival, taking place at Stratford Circus in east London on 25 and 26 January, aims to get African and Caribbean people to talk more openly about mental health and stigma. Hosted by Time to Change and Mellow, an African-Caribbean mental health organisation, the festival’s theme is “belonging” as mental health stigma can be a barrier to developing and maintaining relationships in the community.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997, I soon realised that while my illness only affected me some of the time, the stigma and discrimination associated with it affected me all of the time. It not only made me reluctant to talk about my mental illness, but also acted as a barrier to me accessing the help and support that was available.
Being black and mentally ill also exposed me to the effects of having to deal with the double stigma of living in a society where racial discrimination still exists and can exacerbate a person’s mental health problems.
But like the fight against racial discrimination, the battle against mental health stigma has been gathering pace over the years and has begun to start changing perceptions. At the forefront of the fight are those living with, and affected by, mental illness.
Now with Time to Change funded by the Department of Health and Comic Relief and run by major mental health charities, Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, the issue of mental health stigma and discrimination is on the national agenda. This gives hope to me and countless others who feel like outcasts in society because we live with a mental illness.
Having Time to Change and Mellow working together on the Stereo-Hype festival helps to promote positive mental health and celebrates the strengths and achievements of African and Caribbean people. Around 50 volunteers with a lived experience of mental illness have been trained in social contact, and will be on hand to talk to visitors about mental health in an informal setting.
With sportspeople such as boxer Herol “Bomber” Graham and Chelsea’s first black footballer, Paul Canoville, talking about their experiences of mental illness, alongside drama, film, dance, art installations and panel debates, stereotypes within black communities can be challenged.
It’s cultural and community-based events such as the Stereo-Hype festival, championed by Mellow for 10 years, which show that mental illness can be overcome. It is important to move the image of black mental health away from the negative, gloomy statistics to one of social engagement.
Being part of events like these has helped me grow in confidence. Now I can openly speak about my mental illness knowing that it is only by talking about it that we can overcome stigma and discrimination.