Stigma in African community

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My name is Ann Gilbert and I came to the UK 23 years ago from Malawi. I am a student mental health nurse. I opted for a change in career after working in an office environment. I have always been interested in nursing.

I initially wanted to work with children but decided to pursue a career in adult mental health. I love being a student as you get to meet a lot of different people with different needs. We have to carry out two placements each year of the course. It is a great opportunity to go to different places. I have worked with dementia sufferers and it was an eye-opening experience. Most people don’t know anything about Dementia and don’t understand what it entails.

I am currently on my last placement at a rehabilitation unit before I qualify as a nurse. It is a great placement as it shows me where people end up before returning to the community. I have been placed at units where patients are quite ill. But at Heathfield House I work with people who are at the last stage of their recovery.

My best placement so far was when I worked in the community because I was able to see how many people are suffering in the community. On different units you look after 15-20 patients but in the community you meet many people in their homes. We need to get out there.

I have come across discrimination towards mental health patients especially towards dementia patients from professionals. Dementia patients can be challenging and people sometimes forget that they are ill. So we have to understand that it isn’t the person talking, it is the dementia talking. I didn’t like the attitude of some nurses at all. As professionals we need to move away from that. I want general medical nurses to be educated about mental health. They don’t have to know much, just the basics. For this reason I want to be an advocate for mental health.

“We have all experienced mental health issues at one point or another.”

There is good and bad in being a student. It is good because you have the opportunity to learn and have freedom to interact with patients, to sit and talk with them. Unfortunately after qualifying as nurses there is a lot of paperwork so there isn’t as much time to spend with patients.

We have all experienced mental health issues at one point or another. I have had anxiety problems in the past but now I know how to control it. I want to teach people to empathise with others who suffer with mental health challenges.

There is a lot of taboo towards mental health so we need to have understanding about different levels and different kinds of mental health problems. Mental health requires treatment but mostly empathy is needed.

Taboo and stigma in the African community is very bad, a lot of African men suffer with mental health resulting in a lot of suicides because they think they have failed. There is an attitude of ‘pull your socks up and be a man’. Mental health isn’t talked about at all in my community. More dialogue is needed.

Change starts with the family, so let your children know they can talk about mental health.

I was motivated to work in mental health because someone helped me through bereavement, and inspired me. There are many people out there who need a bit of support or a comforting word. I want to be an advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves.

My anxiety started after I lost my husband, my kids needed their father so I had to be the mum and the dad and everything at the same time. I fell ill once with a cold but I was anxious about being ill because my children needed me. This caused me to be more ill.

My advice is if you have mental health issue – please seek help.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I think mental problems affect people who aren’t native to a land. In the UK it does affect Asians and Africans more, as you find it difficult to fit in and adapt… It doesn’t need to be a thing about race, but a thing about the confusing incapability to work with your surroundings.

    Races tend to most often stick to their own kind, rather than mingling with other kinds. I’m sure that the ones who do socialize with other races are affected by mental disease.

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  2. Thank you to Ann for her compassion working with mental health patients. It’s interesting to hear about the stigma that African men suffer from their own community. I have seen the same sort of attitudes in Asian families towards special needs children. Some families emigrate to Canada because they offer services and acceptance for these children, where they would be badly treated and excluded in their country of origin. It is very sad.

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