Sheffield Care Trust (SCT), which manages the city’s mental health, learning disability and substance misuse services, wants to reach out to people across the city to raise awareness of the stigma that exists in these service areas.
Within black and minority ethnic (BME) groups the stigma is particularly strong and can have a major impact on the willingness for those who may need help to access services.
But now key people from Sheffield’s Somali, Yemeni, Pakistani, African Caribbean and Chinese communities have joined the campaign to encourage people from across the city to find out more about mental health issues and the services on offer.
Mohammed Aziz, a businessman from Burngreave and prominent member of Sheffield’s Pakistani community, said: “Within the Pakistani community there is a real sense of shame associated with mental health. People don’t tend to understand the various conditions such as depression, anxiety and psychosis so don’t recognise the symptoms. In addition to this, I don’t think they are aware that there are the services out there to help them.
“It is still very much hidden away within the community and not spoken about so we are trying to encourage people to come forward and talk openly about these issues by giving them as much information as possible. This is a long term problem and there will be no quick answers but the campaign is making the first steps towards breaking down those barriers.”
Greg Harrison, manager of SCT’s North Day Service on Pitsmoor Road, said:
“There is an over representation of people from BME communities in hospital due to a mental illness because sometimes they are not accessing help earlier enough. It could be that the first time they come into contact with a mental health service is when they reach crisis point and have to be admitted to hospital. Encouraging people to recognise symptoms early and letting them know that is help and treatments available would be a huge step forward.
“This sense of denial is a major barrier but there are also a number of cultural differences such as language difficulties and how people communicate their symptoms to their GP. Within the Pakistani community, for example, there is little differentiation between physical and mental health so it can be difficult for GPs to pick up what the problem is. A patient may be describing the physical symptoms of depression such as tiredness or not eating properly but not actually saying ‘I feel depressed’ because the condition is just not recognised within the Pakistani culture.”
“It is about proactively reaching out to all the communities in Sheffield and making them aware of our campaign. There is still a fear associated with mental health problems, particularly within BME communities, and as service providers we need to do all we can to help address that.”
The campaign coincides with SCT’s application for Foundation Trust status which will mean services are run locally and not by the Government. If successful, the Trust, which will still be part of the NHS, will work closely with the local community to develop services in the way that best suits the needs of local people.