1 in 4 people are affected by mental illness.
While people from all walks of life can be affected, it is those from marginalised groups such as black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities which are at greater risk. In fact, according to the Mental Health Taskforce, BAME households are more likely to live in poorer or overcrowded conditions, increasing the risks of developing mental illness. To date there is no known cure to mental illness. Those affected find ways to learn to cope and live with it. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (16-22 May) individuals from Hackney Seventh-day Adventist church in Haggerston shared their experiences.
For many BAME groups the impact of mental healthis a devastating and overwhelming experience. For Brenda Arnold, this was certainly no exception. Brenda’s personal struggle with mental illness began in 1993 and it was a new experience for herself and her family. “It just happened all of a sudden”, Brenda begins. “I would be up all hours of the night reading and just freaked out. My mum noticed these changes in me and took me to my GP.” After being assessed by her GP, Brenda, who was not sectioned, was referred to Hackney Hospital – a hub for those diagnosed with mental illness.
Brenda has unhappy memories of her time there. “I felt like I was in a different world with all these different people in different moods around me. It was a scary place. I suddenly found myself becoming institutionalized. When this happens, you become your environment and do what everyone else is doing.” For many patients, ward round is a particularly disconcerting experience admits Brenda: “You are put in a room full of psychiatrists, doctors and social workers asking you all kinds of questions. If you laugh or cry you can forget about being released from hospital as these emotions are often regarded as if the patient were still exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. It was a vicious cycle. I couldn’t be myself.”
Like Brenda, Eileen Philip had rather negativeexperiences in hospital. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1993, Eileen’s struggle with mental illness began whilst studying at university. “I had 2 young children at the time and just found it difficult to cope. I had moments of extreme happiness where I felt on top of the world, writing cheques to those who seemed unhappy and staying up all hours of the night. Then I would have moments of complete sadness where I would be quiet and withdrawn, not wanting to socialise or go outdoors.” For Eileen, the impact of medication given to her in the hospital was immense. “My senses were dulled and I gained a lot of weight. My movement was slow and I became much quieter, withdrawn. It was a dark place but with support from my family I got through it.”
While in hospital, Eileen, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Hackney, received an assurance from God encouraging her that she would see her family again and not return to the hospital ward the same way she went in. It was with this thought in mind that after her release from hospital she wrote and packaged ABWA (A Better Way Ahead) – a personal development programme aimed towards reaching individuals affected with mental illness: “I wanted to reach those going through some of the same experiences I encountered, to let them know that they are loved, valued and not alone.” She adds: “The programme was designed to build self-esteem, challenge negative thoughts and replace those with positive affirmations, giving individuals back power and ownership of their lives whilst reminding them that through God there is always a better way ahead.”
Joining Eileen on this exciting venture was Brendawho had not only gone to school with Eileen but had also been in the same hospital at the same time. “It was a very surreal experience meeting Eileen in this way after so many years”, reveals Brenda. “Things happen for a reason. God used our experiences to reach out and help those who were experiencing something similar. We are survivors and by sharing our testimony with others we are able to help those who are suffering to have hope and know that their change will come too.”
It is this awareness and openness to mental illness which helps to dispel the stigma and labels placed upon individuals affected with the condition. “My family were very open about my mother’s mental illness”, says Sonia Ama, a teacher in the Children’s department at Hackney church. “Often mum would deny she had an illness and did not respond well to taking her medication but as a family we stuck together and the community to which we belonged to in St Lucia, were supportive. We just found ways of dealing with it from day to day.”
For many affected with mental illness that is the way to deal with it – on a day-to-day basis. Herminia Mathieu, director of Health Ministries at Hackney church advises all people to incorporate the Adventist method of positive health – NEWSTART. She says: “Nutrition is important. We are what we eat. We must eat well and on time. Regular exerciseneed not be cumbersome – a 5-10 minute walk every day really does make a difference. Drinking 2 litres of water a day keeps the body well hydrated and the mind clear. It’s important to get outdoors in the sunshine as many of us have a deficiency in vitamin D. Temperance in what we eat, when we eat and what we do throughout the day is a must. We must always get outdoors in the fresh air for clarity of mind and being in touch with nature. Rest includes getting our fully recommended 8 hours of sleep each night, not forgetting to put our trust in God who created our minds and bodies to be healthy, vibrant and positive as we think on Him and His beauty as revealed in nature.”
While not advocating the dismissal of medications prescribed by doctors, there are some natural remedies which may be helpful in managing some of the symptoms related to mental illness alongside conventional treatments. According to Anna Seepaul, a member of Hackney church, these include: “Lavender which is good for insomnia, nervousness and headaches. You can add the lavender essential oil to your bath and it relaxes you while lavender leaves in your tea leave you feeling calm and refreshed. Omega 3 is good for those affected with bipolar disorder while porridge oats and camomile are good at dealing with those experiencing anxiety and stress.”
The message is clear. You can live with mental illness and with your experiences make a positive difference in society.