For the first time at the black psychology convention, Pattigift members gave a presentation. It focused on the 40+-year history of a African ancestry mental health in the uk. We talked of leading books like aliens and alienists, supposedly ground shifting policy documents like breaking the circles of fear, inside outside, delivering race equality. Culminating in the new position of race no longer being considered an issue in mental Health or society in general.
We ended with what Pattigift has done and is currently doing to address psychological issues impacting the African heritage communities; and the current state of African mental health provision.
All of that leads to what came to mind whilst preparing the presentation. Two issues stood out like beacons, firstly how little Africans had been central to the discussions on their mental health and the provision of relevant services and secondly very little discussion had taken place about African mental health the focus had always been mental illness.
It really seemed to suggest that policy makers, clinicians, academics were really only looking at African people from a problem perspective; in effect our mental health was dependent on how compliant we were with statutory services and how accessible we make ourselves to their mental illness provision.
We do not exist beyond the narrow confines of mental illness, we are the over represented group, the hard to engage group, and the only engaging with services at a very late stage group.
Won’ t look in the mirror
But as much as it is clear that no one wants to hear what Africans have to say about their mental health and their relationship with services. It also seems apparent that many of us aren’t too bothered about it either. That is until something happens to put it right in our face.
There is something about us that has difficulty in wanting to admit that sometimes we don’t have the answers and help (What a nasty four letter word) is required.
Some of it is down to genetic flashback when we couldn’t show signs of weakness in front of psychopath for fear of how that would be used against them; but also as a way of teaching others particularly children how to protect themselves.
It served a useful and protective purpose back then; but the need to not admit that something is not quite right is now a hazard to our wellbeing.
I wonder also, if whether our embracing of an individualistic worldview is having an impact. Because we more inclined to think about ourselves (or our immediate family) we are less community orientated than previously; we no longer see ourselves as having a shared common interest.
However way you want to look at it; whether your interested or not, the end result is the same 40 years on people of African ancestry’s mental health is a major cause for concern.
For those of us who are interested and believe that if sections of the community are not healthy it has a negative impact on all of us; the time is well overdue for a new discourse. A discourse that comes from us and driven by us.
A discourse that looks why we’re breaking down, and not just accepting of the fact. What is the impact on the African psyche of living in a society that seeks to mould you into a black version of itself; whilst at the same time overtly and covertly telling you that you will always be on the outside? To function from someone else’s reality is insanity and can have only one outcome; denial of self and of ones kind.
Imagine a dog trying to be cat, the England football team trying to be Brazil or Justin Timberlake trying to be Michael Jackson; get my drift?
We at Pattigift are working to add more voices to this discourse. We continue to challenge African heritage communities to face the important questions that challenge us. It is clear that from the African traditional perspective of ‘know thyself’ many are doing the very opposite they are unknowing themselves, getting as far away from themselves as they can.
That is their choice; we support the view that we all have free will, but free will can only come from a free mind
Our focus should be community and professionals of African ancestry working together to identify ways of engaging individuals at an early stage of distress. Using ways of helping people that come from us and speak to us. Where African people make the definitive statements on what African mental health looks like.
Peace and many blessings