Mental health

There’s nothing unusual or shameful about mental illness. Most of us have problems at some time in our lives, such as money worries, stress at work or the death of a loved one, which can affect our mental health. Find out how to recognise the signs, and where to go for help.

In a few cases, the effect can be serious and long-lasting. Around a quarter of all GP visits are for a mental health problem, usually anxiety or depression

However, people from African and African Caribbean communities, including those of white and black mixed ethnicity, can face additional problems which may affect their mental health. Everyday life has a big impact on mental health, and black communities in the UK are still more likely than others to experience problems such as bad housing, unemployment, stress and racism, all of which can make people ill.

Kathryn Hill at the Mental Health Foundation says many people don't trust health services. "Lots of people won't use health services until they're very unwell because they're frightened of what will happen. So they're more likely to be in worse health by the time they do seek help," she says.

Looking after your own mental health, and your family’s and friends’ too, is important 

Worldwide, it seems that people who move from one country to another have a higher risk of mental illness. This is especially true for black people who move to predominantly white countries, and the risk is even higher for their children. So while mental illness is no more common in Africa or the Caribbean than it is in the UK as a whole, it is a bigger problem for African and African Caribbean communities living in the UK.

That means that looking after your mental health, as well as your family’s and friends’, is important, so you need to know who to speak to if things go wrong.

Where to go for mental health help

"If you're worried, seek help as soon as possible," says Kathryn. Getting good care early can make a big difference. If you know something’s not right, don’t pretend that everything is OK. There are many people who can help, but the NHS is usually the best place to start.

The NHS is there for everyone, and its mental health services should meet everyone’s needs equally well. They may be able to put you in touch with organisations outside the NHS that can help. Either way, you’re entitled to a service that treats you as an individual, respects your culture and faith, and can help you if English isn’t your first language.

Talk to your GP first. GPs aren’t just there for your physical health. They have experience in helping people with mental health problems too. They can also refer you to specialist services. If you don’t have a GP, register with one. Find a GP near you. If you need to talk to someone urgently, you can call:

  • NHS 111
  • SANE: 0845 767 8000
  • Samaritans: 0845 790 9090

Protecting your mental health

"Keeping your mind and body healthy can help," says Kathryn. "This includes eating well, drinking in moderation and getting enough exercise."

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises that, for mild to moderate depression, exercise can be more effective than antidepressants. GPs can refer you for exercise therapy.

"Exercise, staying healthy and talking therapies can also help with anxiety and more serious mental illness," says Kathryn.

Help from friends and family

If you have a family member or friend with a mental illness, be supportive. Keep in touch with them and make sure they know they can talk to you if they want to. "Remember that most people with mental illness are not violent," says Kathryn. Let your friend know you're there, but also keep boundaries." You can't be their counsellor, but let them know you'll help them access the support they need.

Find out more about mental health and wellbeing, and getting help and support:

For more information on supporting a friend with mental illness, see the Mental Health Foundation's leaflet: Keeping Us Going (PDF, 736kb)

Healthtalk online has interviews and video of people talking about their experiences of mental health issues: see mental health: minority ethnic experiences.

Attitudes to mental health

Four people who've had mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, paranoid schizophrenia and personality disorder, talk about the negative reactions they faced and how they overcame them.

Media last reviewed: 23/06/2011

Next review due: 23/06/2013

Page last reviewed: 01/06/2012

Next review due: 01/06/2014

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Wendy Ragiste said on 31 July 2008

Interestingly, it seems that whilst with most immigrant groups the second generation has an easing of mental health issues, the descendants Black African and Black Caribbean immigrants seem to suffer more than their parents.

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