On Friday (14 Oct) we held our Mental Health event for #MentalHealthAwarnessWeek, thank you to all of you would joined us and joined the discussion on this very important topic.
The day was split into two halves, in the morning we brought Southwark charities and groups together to look at ways in which they could all work together and support each other to enable them to better support their service users.
Grace Smith, Chair of Community Southwark’s Mental Health Network, opened the event with an ice breaker. Grace asked everyone around the room to share one thing that makes them happy and we found that all shares had a similar theme in that every one was a simple day-to-day action or activity:
- “Spending time with people and meeting people in person”.
- “Switching phones off on a Friday night and doing exactly what we fancy”.
- “Making some Carribean treats and eating them all in one go and getting a brilliant sugar high”.
Our first guest speaker for the morning was Charlene Young, a mental health awareness advocate.
Charlene shared her story about being diagnosed with bone cancer and how mental health issues were brought on by anxiety from the diagnosis and the lack of support.
The bone cancer resulted in Charlene needing to have a full knee replacement and she was put on a whole range of pills. Charlene explained how the rehabilitation and recovery took much longer than it might have done due to her poor mental health. She explained that from the very beginning she wasn’t offered any kind of mental health support and so her mental health deteriorated further and further. It got so bad that she wasn’t well enough to take her son to school and this resulted in the school taking her to court because someone in the benefit office had written ‘knee issue’ on her form and nothing about the bone cancer which had caused it.
Charlene explained how she bravely weaned herself off the pills and started to feel more like her old self and then she stated her advocacy journey with a group called Black Women Rising. This gave her story a lot of exposure, but she realised that she needed counselling to help her to fully be able to share her story and to finally start the journey of healing herself mentally. Charlene told us that she didn’t have a great connection with the NHS councilor she was connected with and was only given a group of 5 sessions and so she found a private councilor.
Charlene now supports other people who are given the diagnosis of bone cancer, helping them to navigate the system. She also runs cancer coaching sessions with staff to make sure people get support with their mental health with it from the very beginning, as she explained, the reason for her poor mental health and rapid deterioration was from not being signposted to support at the very start of her diagnosis. Charlene now also advocates for support with dependents, so that parents can get the help that they and their children need.
We then had our first Conversation Café in which groups were asked, ’How can you as a community organisation help people who are experiencing loneliness….?’ Groups gave their insights and talked about their ideas as CS facilitators noted these down and then fed back to the room.
This nicely led into our second Conversation Café in which groups were asked, ‘How can you work together to better support your service users who are experiencing poor mental health issues?’. These issues being exacerbated due the pandemic and things like the current cost of living crisis. Again, groups gave their insights and talked about their ideas as CS facilitators noted them down and then fed back to the room.
Our second guest speaker for the day was Alison Blackwood From Southwark Traveller Action Group (STAG).
Alison gave us some stark statistics which highlight the fact that mental health issues are hugely prevalent within the traveler community. Of the people who STAG works with 50% live in travel sights but 50% live in brick and mortar and this in itself causes metal health issues as it is not their choice and they can feel trapped.
- Are twice as likely to suffer from depression
- 7 times more likely to die by suicide
- 6 times more likely to experience infant death
- Have 3 x the rates of exclusion from school
From direct interviews with travellers by the STAG team, we also heard that:
- 40% of travelers in schools say they are bullied at school
- 60% are not in employment and the majority who are employed are self employed which
- Only 1/3rd say they can manage on their current incomes
- Over 12% of traveller sights are built on rubbish sites and travellers say they don’t feel safe.
- 55% of Southwark travelers have experienced hate crimes.
Alison explained that all of these issues lead to isolation and loneliness and have a huge impact on people’s mental health. To combat this STAG have created a woman’s group which brings people together to offer advice and support. They have also been awarded 4 year’s funding from the National Lottery on a project to reduce health inequalities, this will include the development of a health and wellbing hub/ centre.
Alison finished by saying that she would love to work with other organisations to get advice in this area which is all totally new to STAG.
The final guest speaker was Hadi Sharifi, Project manager at Panjshir Aid, a charity which supports Afghan refugees and asylum speakers.
Hadi started by explaining how the changes in the people’s lives, often being forced to leave their home countries, has a massive impact on their mental health. He explained that it is very common for refugees and asylum speakers to have poor mental health due to the awful things that they have experienced or witnessed and then their of their journeys to the UK. They are then faced with having to navigate the huge amounts of paperwork from the home office and deal with being in limbo, waiting for the results of their cases. In this period they are not allowed to work and so it is also financially very stressful, people have committed suicide Hadi said, due to all of this strain.
Hadi also explained that mental health is a taboo subject in the Afghan community, there is a huge stigma attached to it and so it is not ever talked about. Support and awareness is needed much sooner for the refugee and asylum seekers, which is what Hadi explained his charity is set up to give to people. The charity has also organised community support groups which are a safe space for people to connect and share stories. The charity also supports by:
- Supporting unaccompanied children
- Referring people to other support services
- Speaking to people’s solicitors and with advocacy and interpreting
- Helping people process their applications with the home office
One thing Hadi said to take away from the day is the need to continue this discussion around mental health. As Alison had said, he also stressed that any support from organisations in the room for his charity would be hugely appreciated.
After lunch for the second half of the day we welcomed individuals who come along to speak to the charities we worked with in the first half of the day, to find out what mental health support there is available to them in Southwark. These stall holders were: Mental Fight Club, Sapphire Wellbeing Academy, Wellbeing Hub, CGL, Together All and Kooth.
During the afternoon people also had the chance to join some workshops run by: Mental Health Fight Club For Medieval Chanting, Dulwich Gallery for Art, Sapphire Academy for Creative Writing and Healthwatch Southwark for Mindfulness.
Our final guest speaker of the day was the Mayor of Southwark. The major talked about the importance of all of us looking after our wellbeing and being aware of others around us. He was very clear on the need for us all to fight the taboo of mental health and the stigmatisation people suffer in ethnic minority communities, advocating conversation and compassion.
Quotes from the day:
Jeff on the Creative Writing session:
“For people who feel it’s not for them they are wrong, anyone can write, everyone has a story to tell. Given a bit of encouragement to express yourself like today you feel valued and it raises you up“.
Gabbie and Pete on the Meditation session
“I really enjoyed it, it gives you a sense of grounding and we all need that”.
“It’s really good, it really helps you to relax and de-stress”.
Charity and Stall Holder Proper Blokes Club
“It’s been a really great experience today, meeting local people and bouncing ideas about support for mental health”.
Charity and Stall Holder Spring Community Hub
“I’ve had some really good interactions today with lots of people taking leaflets and talking to us and this all promotes awareness of mental health issues and support”.
See all the photos and a summary of the day here