Beverly Simpson, a nurse from Londonderry, went through a challenging period with her mental health in 2012. Balancing her full-time job and caring for her child, she reached a point where she hadn’t slept for two weeks. Overcoming the cultural taboo surrounding mental health in her community, Beverly eventually sought help from her GP and was referred for counseling. Inspired by her personal journey, she organized a conference in collaboration with the trade union Unison, focusing on the mental health of black and minority ethnic workers.
The conference, held at Londonderry’s Guildhall, was a significant milestone as the first of its kind in Northern Ireland. Prof Siobhan O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s mental health champion, delivered the keynote address, emphasizing the importance of addressing mental health issues within new communities and ensuring their integration and well-being. Attendees at the conference shared their own stories, highlighting the challenges they faced in accessing mental health support and the stigma surrounding mental health in certain cultures.
Israel Eguaogie, an individual familiar with navigating the mental health system in Northern Ireland, emphasized the need for increased research and understanding of the mental health needs of black and ethnic minority people. He also called for training programs to enhance cultural awareness within the healthcare system. Lekan Ojo-Okiji Abasi, a clinical coordinator, emphasized the lack of diversity among mental health practitioners and stressed the importance of representation to overcome language barriers and better understand individuals’ cultural backgrounds.
Dr. Mukesh Chugh, a consultant anaesthetist, emphasized the necessity of tailoring mental health services to meet the specific needs of minority ethnic groups. He highlighted the importance of education and cultural awareness among practitioners to create a welcoming and understanding environment for patients from diverse backgrounds. Trade union Unison, which has a substantial membership of black and migrant workers, expressed the need for resources to train individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds and encourage their participation in mental health professions.
The Department of Health acknowledged the increasing number of health workers from diverse backgrounds and the importance of ensuring mental health promotion meets the needs of those requiring early intervention. The recently published Mental Health Strategy recognizes the significance of targeted approaches to groups more likely to be affected by mental ill-health, including BAME groups. By addressing these issues and promoting cultural awareness, Northern Ireland aims to provide inclusive and effective mental health services for all.