Isn’t it strange when memories suddenly flow back, memories that you completely forget have happened to you!? I am sure you have all experienced this. May it be a coping mechanism or just down to a flakey memory.
The topic of mental health and the percentages of people with Afro Caribbean descent being treated more aggressively then those from other heritages seems to be quite hot at the moment. As a black female who has been in the mental health system most of my life but more heavily since 2013, I thought that I had only experienced what I considered to be racist encounters, via staff of fellow Afro-Caribbean descent. I have blogged about those experiences before.
Yesterday I was asked to share those documented encounters with a black mental health worker for a case study, and upon reflection in conversation today, I remembered something else.
In December 2013 I was accosted by another patient of dual heritage, she questioned my gender (on an all female ward) and consistently called me a, “Black Bitch”, a “Fat Bitch” and a “Nigger”! Everyday for almost a month. I was scared, offended and uncomfortable around her but inevitably saw her most days as there isn’t to much room when stuck in an acute ward. The staff seemed to fear her also and so she was never reprimanded. Looking back at the situation more rationally, I now realise that the described patient was transgender, physically obese and had identity issues with being from a dual heritage descent. Her bullying was a projection of her own self loathing, unfortunately, unintentionally and unluckily for me, I ignited some discomfort within her. I did not understand at the time and it clearly distressed me and interfered with my recovery but now three years later and the ability to reflect upon the situation rationally, her verbal abuse and issues with me, weren’t actually about me at all!
During another relapse and an admission to another hospital only last year, I experienced something similar. There was an elderly black lady. She disliked me from the moment that she saw me and made it known each and every time she looked at me. “You Black Bitch!” “You are as dark as chocolate, look at you!” “I don’t look like you, you darkie”. She threw things at me, glared at me, waved her Christian cross necklace at me, even tried to physically attack me. Once again, I felt sabotaged and the staff didn’t really intervene. I think on one occasion when she threw her corn beef (which I hate by the way) sandwich at my head, she was sent to her room! It is kind of funny thinking back. At the time it was frustrating, hospital is about recovery, monitoring and restoration, not more aggregation and agitation, but once again, I understand now that her manner and behaviour were more about her own issues and not really about me at all!
So two more real life accounts on my experiences of being black, mentally ill and hospitalised.
I think that I have been penalised and judged more, for having a history of achievement’s. I had the get up and go despite many odd’s stacked against me, the awol father, teenage mother, alopecia, the bullying, depression etc. I auditioned and placed with The National Youth Theater at sixteen and seventeen. Getting into Drama School at seventeen. Moving to London alone at eighteen. Acquiring a 2.1 Bachelor Of Arts Degree by twenty-one. Being self sufficient. Being an Actor. Working in education. Having all of that as my history plus my artistic expression and vocabulary to date, it seems to get some mental health worker’s backs up. This disgusts me because to me it is very black and white, basic, and I always try to see the grey. All human beings have mental health and anyone and everyone’s mental health can get knocked, bruised, fractured or broken, just like any other part of the body. No matter who you are or where you come from, no one is immune and absolutely everyone is susceptible! It is not just the mighty who can fall, and there is no shame in needing help to get back up!

Being A Black, Thirt-Two Year Old Woman and Crazy…

After watching, “Being Black And Going Crazy” I have found myself, as a black woman with certified and diagnosed mental health problems, reflecting upon the show and my own personal experiences.
I have been an inpatient at various mental health hospitals in both Birmingham and London over the last three years and cannot say that the ratio of Black patients, White patients, Asian patients and any “Other” patients has dominated more than each other, it has always been pretty equal. Regardless to the culture in which the area of the hospital is situated, because with the huge NHS Mental Health budget crisis, there are often national shortages of beds and so you end up where you end up, regardless of where you come from or which mental health hospital is closer to your home logistically.
I have always tried to accept help when it has been offered, when a psychiatric team suggest you go into hospital, you know it is both serious and important because it is not an easy decision to make or accommodate. If you refuse to comply, you may very well get sectioned and so do always try to accept the help when it is offered, as it is hard to come by.
The only difficulty that I have found as a black woman, is the patronising, inappropriate chat off the ward nurses of African or Caribbean descent. Although I believe that these members of staff were just trying to help, trying to show empathy but they approached me in the wrong way and gave some terrible, unprofessional and uncalled for advice. “Listen my sister, where in Africa are you from? You have a nice skin tone. What do you have to be depressed about? Do you think you are the only one who has had a hard life sister!? You will end up getting diagnosed if you don’t stop. Just pray to God and he will guide you sister.”
Excuse me! Firstly, I am not your sister! Secondly, I am not from Africa! Who cares what skin tone I have!? I don’t know all the reasons and why I am depressed. I most definitely know that life is and can be hard on everyone, not just me! Stop what!? Surely a diagnosis will lead to some kind of understanding, provide some answers!? Pray to God!? I did not disclose that I am religious!
The assumptions’ that these ladies made, the way they spoke to me, what they said to me, it was all because I was a black patient.
Each time I have been admitted into hospital has been because of troubles with my mentality, some of those problems were caused by genetics, both nature and nurture, but not because of the colour of my skin and whether the nurses had good intentions or not, I believe that their approach was unprofessional! I never witnessed them talk to any other people (not of colour) in the same way! I did see them approach fellow black patients.
Every patient, no matter what colour of their skin, their age, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, diagnosis, they all deserve equal treatment.
“If you would treat the black man like you treat the white man , carry on man! Peace and Love”
“I am a black, thirty-two year old woman with various mental health problems.” Joe Blogs can home in on any part of that information but from the mind of a mental health professional, all they should hear is,”mental health problems”. Ethnicity, age and gender should come second.